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Should students be deterred from reading To Kill A Mockingbird?

The Durham District School Board has ruled that students don’t have to read To Kill A Mockingbird if they don’t want to. It’s all part of a modern curriculum change that would give students (or most likely parents) more control over the novels studied in class.

To be very clear: the book is not being banned — students are just no longer required to read it. The idea is that those who feel uncomfortable about the language and the themes of To Kill A Mockingbird will be allowed to choose another option to read in class.

Written by Harper Lee and published in 1961, To Kill A Mockingbird follows the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer who defends a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. It’s a classic novel that explores themes of racism, gender roles, and religion.

Reaction to this decision has been mixed. Some are praising the Durham District School Board for “modernizing” the curriculum while others can’t understand the problems it may cause.

I’m all for diversifying the books students read. In fact, I think new literature should be added to the reading list every year — but there are some novels that should absolutely be read and To Kill A Mockingbird is one of them.

First of all, young people should be exposed to different kinds of literature, especially if it explores themes that make them uncomfortable. This is how they learn about history and aspects of life they may be unfamiliar with. Too often, especially in school, teachers lean towards political correctness. In typical Canadian fashion, no one wants to offend someone else. But, if there is one place students should feel comfortable enough to ask questions that may not be acceptable in current society, it’s at school! If all of the “controversial” books are removed from shelves or are provided as an option rather than a requirement, how will students be exposed to different walks of life?

The argument that this book may be offensive to some people is ridiculous. It’s a historic novel that presents real themes that still impact people today. Sure, the language can be a bit intense (no one likes the n-word), but how else can teachers begin a conversation about why those phrases and words are not acceptable now? A good novel has a way of introducing topics that may be disturbing or controversial, and allows for real discussion. I think all students should be encouraged to read books that explore themes like religion, gender, politics, and racism.

At the same time, I support the idea that new and modern books should be re-introduced into the curriculum. But, why not put these two ideas together? Instead of making students choose between a book written in the 2000s and one written in the 1960s, make them read both! Expose young people to a variety of literature, including those written in Canada. Who says students have to focus on one book a year? I say, the more the merrier.

So, Durham, I hope you have thought this through. Don’t deprive students from the teachings of a classic and important novel just because it may make some of them uncomfortable. It will only hurt them in the long run.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

It’s not all about the wages for Ontario teachers

Let us tell you about a friend of ours named Matt.

Matt is a local teacher who, before and after school, voluntarily coaches volleyball, soccer, and football. He doesn’t mind. In fact, he loves it!

Unfortunately for Matt, as of today, Ontario elementary teachers won’t be supervising any extra-curricular activities at schools. This means that school programs like musical activities, student council, and sports teams will be put on hold until further notice. This decision was made by Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) as an escalation to their negotiations with the province. The job action also means that teachers won’t be able to produce report cards for kids in Kindergarten to Grade 8.

“The Liberal government and OPSBA have ignored all attempts by ETFO to get them to return to the central bargaining table, including an offer to refer one issue to binding arbitration. If OPSBA and the government want a deal, why are they not responding to our efforts to resume bargaining? Why are they not back at the bargaining table with us?” said ETFO President Sam Hammond in a statement.

“Our members do not undertake this escalation of strike action lightly, but they understand that reaching a fair and reasonable agreement will not happen unless OPSBA and the government are present at the bargaining table.”

So, why are these teachers still on work-to-rule after roughly 14 months of negotiations?

For a lot of teachers, including Matt, the issues isn’t about wages. It’s about class sizes and control of their own programming. Under the current negotiations, the school board has the final say on classroom size and how schools deal with special-needs students. With budget cuts, special-needs students aren’t receiving the resources and the help they require, which makes it even more difficult for teachers to aide them in their studies. Classrooms right now consist of about 30 kids. To supervise and teach this many children at a time is challenging, and it makes it difficult for teachers to give students individual attention.

Meanwhile, Premier Kathleen Wynne has said she may order the school board to dock teacher’s pay starting in November in light of the job action escalation—which doesn’t make sense considering extracurricular supervision is voluntary. The message the Premier is sending teachers is that they should be paid less for not doing something they actually aren’t paid to do in the first place. I doubt this will go over well with the ETFO.

After saying this, it is a shame that children won’t be receiving report cards in November. They deserve to see their academic progress. But, the Ontario government needs to take teachers’ claims seriously and bring the ETFO back to the negotiations table. And they have to realize it isn’t all about the money, despite the fact it’s a message that the media and the government seems to be pushing. People like Matt just wants to be able to do his job to the fullest of his ability, and that includes smaller class sizes and more resources for his students.

So Ontario, think about this: If “Phase 3” of the job action is to cut extra-curricular activities, what’s next? Probably another strike. Let’s try to avoid that if possible.