I read it my junior year of high school with a fabulous teacher in a sleepy white farm town in Western New York. I spent a lot time in Buffalo for ballet and had plenty of diverse friends but the people around me didn't. It was a book that changed the tenor of our other discussions in class, not just the ones about TKAM. It was a book that sparked my desire to be a lawyer.
Aside from the effects on my class social dynamic, I love the life lessons we see through the children's eyes. The innocence of trading trinkets with Boo Radley, the simplicity of bartering goods for services, the hardship of being different, the quiet wisdom and struggle of Atticus, the awkwardly obvious truth in the courtroom. I love so much about this book.
But, I will admit, that I have found my frustration and rage to be stronger in recent rereads. It felt far more removed from the present when I read it the first time over ten years ago. Now it feels like it could still happen in today's America. And that is terrifying. However, I still really enjoy rereading it and use that anger to fuel me to be better.
Because of the way the Common Core was implemented in New York, our eighth graders now read TKAM. (Don't get me started on this.) And I mentioned to a black student who was carrying it, how much I like it.
She didn't exactly lose it on me, but she definitely had an opinion and it blew me away.
She said she hated it. She said it was just one more story in which the black guy isn't a character, he's a tool to make white people morally better or worse. He's a bullshit lesson. She said she was sick of reading about spoiled white kids FINALLY realizing what she grew up knowing already.
She went on for several minutes. AND IT BLEW ME AWAY.
I didn't realize how much of my white privilege was wrapped up in my love of this book. I told her how impressed I was and that I was thinking deeply about she said.
I still don't know how to feel about loving a book that made a young girl feel so negatively. I do know that I will be listening and being thoughtful as I keep reading. I know I will encourage my colleagues to value the opinions of their students even when they differ from the established thoughts on a "classic." I know I will endeavor engage my students in content that does not make them constantly feel like the other.
I know I will fail but I will try to be better.