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'To Kill a Mockingbird' no longer a recommended resource in Surrey School District

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Surrey, B.C. -

The Surrey School District has updated its list of recommended resources for educators, excluding novels like Harper Lee’s "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Ritinder Matthew, an associate director of communications with the district, said the decision to move away from Lee’s novel isn’t an outright ban. Lee's novel and others no longer on the list will still be available for teachers to utilize and will remain in school libraries.

Matthew said the district wanted to provide more comprehensive and culturally sensitive educational materials for students to address issues like racism in a relevant and responsible way.

“I know there’s other literature that’s come since that deals with these issues in a way that will resonate with our students and better captures the current social landscape of the world today,” Matthew said.

Matthew said families and caregivers reached out to the district with some concerns about the book – and others, including "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck, "In the Heat of the Night" by John Ball and "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie.

After conducting a year-long review with teachers and researchers, the district identified a number of issues with the novels, such as the portrayal of Black characters as one-dimensional, the use of the "white savior" trope, and ableist language. The review also noted use of the n-word, noting it is normalized in the text and not necessarily used as a slur, but often as another word for Black people.

“Ultimately, our priority is to ensure that every child in our classrooms feels safe and supported,” Matthew said.

The district’s decision prompted strong reaction from Premier David Eby, who praised Lee’s novel.

“Seems like a crazy decision, right?,” Eby said. “This is a beautiful book. It’s a profoundly anti-racist book.”

Matthew said she was surprised by the premier’s response and pointed to the Ministry of Education and Child Care’s "K-12 Anti-Racism Education Plan," which she said the district has been adhering to by reviewing the curriculum through an equity lens. 

Annie Ohana, the Indigenous department head at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, said she welcomed the district’s decision to provide more inclusive literature resources for students.

“As much as they’re classics – and they do touch on some very important discussions in terms of the historical context of racism – there have been concerns about these books, especially in terms of the language,” she said.

Richard Beaudry, the co-ordinator of UBC's teacher librarianship program, said it’s important for school districts to consider the quality of the literature they provide and whether it’s worth studying. He added it's important teacher-librarians still have access to these books.

"If we remove all books that take any view of what happened in the past, that would not be necessarily a good educational model moving forward,” he said.

Matthew said the district has recommended alternative books including "Beloved" by Toni Morrison for Grade 12 and "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas for Grade 10. She said these options provide greater agency and voice to their characters.

If teachers want to include the four novels the district has moved away from, Matthew said they are still able to do so with approval from a principal.

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