Monday, October 28, 2013

To Kill A Mockingbird - A Fall Feast

Every year when the leaves fall from the trees, when I need to locate my scraper to remove frost from my windshield in the morning, when I need to clean the drawers and closets and replace the light summer shorts with jeans and the tank tops with sweaters, I also need to replace my candy summer reading to the more substantial, hearty meal novels.  I love curling up with a great classic full of symbolism, diligently woven themes, and carefully crafted characters who experience epiphanies. My favorite hearty classic is still To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Up until this year, every fall I handed out the purple covered coming of age gem. As students studied the front cover, and thumbed through the 280 pages, I smiled and couldn’t wait to feast on the substantial meal and once again join the Finch family in Maycomb, Alabama.  

This year, I will miss as students unravel the ghost story of Boo Radley or stage the trial of Tom Robinson.  I don’t get to witness students fight over the role of Atticus Finch as he defends Tom’s rights at a trial they lost before it even began due to the pervasive blanket of racism in the deep south in the 1930s.  When students laugh at Dill’s storytelling and his idea of how babies are born, or react to Scout’s treatment of Walter Cunningham when he pours syrup on his meal, I won’t be there to hear it.  As Scout and Jem take their eery walk home after Scout’s failed attempt to be a star ham in the Halloween pageant, I won’t teach students what really happened on that confusing journey home.  The definition of hero, will be up to another teacher to instill in the 10 Honors students, and the final sequence that brings the framed narrative full circle, will be up to another teacher to highlight.  Just knowing that students will still be experiencing Lee’s literary banquet makes me happy, though. 

Atticus Finch will always be my hero, and I believe if everyone followed his sage advice to Scout after her disastrous first day of school, that people would learn to get along a whole bunch better.  Scout tells her dad that she never wants to return to school because of her clueless teacher.  Atticus tells her, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” If people followed this wisdom, our world would be different.  Before we taunted, teased, judged or ridiculed, if we could for a moment consider the other person’s side, many fights and disagreements would disappear, or at least we could come to an understanding.  I’ve witnessed 15 years worth of students ponder this theme, and try and put it into action in their classrooms and lives.  I assigned a “walk around in someone else’s shoes” activity, and watched students see the world from a different perspective.  If politicians, world leaders, parents, teachers, and neighbors tried Atticus’s “simple trick” humanity might be a lot more humane. 
Although candy summer books can transport us to different worlds and wrap us in easy romantic sagas, rarely do they transform us as people.  That’s the power of a hearty classic. This year as the leaves fall, and I grab my pumpkin latte to curl up with my substantial meal of To Kill A Mockingbird, I will miss my eager 10 Honors students and their discovery of how influential a good meal of a book can be. 

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