October 21, 2018 1:35 pm

School board in Ontario takes new approach to teaching ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Author Harper Lee smiles during a ceremony honoring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. Harper Lee, the elusive author whose "To Kill a Mockingbird" became an enduring best seller and classic film with its child's-eye view of racial injustice in a small Southern town, has died according to Harper Collins spokeswoman Tina Andreadis. She was 89. (Aug. 20, 2007)

Rob Carr / Associate Press

Some Canadian writers are applauding an Ontario school board that has mandated “To Kill A Mockingbird” only be taught through a critical “anti-oppression lens.”

The authors say it’s important for students to see their identities reflected in the material they learn in English class.

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The Peel District School Board says it wants to expose students to texts from diverse authors on race and injustice in an effort to update its English curriculum, and sent a memo to English department heads and principals telling them as much.

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The memo indicates that if teachers choose to use Harper Lee’s classic novel in their lesson plans, it should be done with a critical eye.

The novel was published in 1960 and explores racial inequality in a small Alabama town through the trial of a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, as told from the perspective of his white lawyer’s family.

African-Canadian poet George Elliott Clarke says texts taught to students about racism should have main characters of colour because that validates and centralizes their experiences of oppression.

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Poleen Grewal, the school board’s associate director of instructional and equity support services, sent the memo and says the novel will be taught to explore the impact of how racism is portrayed by a white author and how that leaves out the perspectives of those who have actually experienced racism.

Chinese-Canadian writer Wayson Choy says he agrees that “To Kill a Mockingbird” should be taught with a more critical approach and in context, since racism is discussed differently today than it was more than 50 years ago.

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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