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Surrey teacher questions district's decision to remove 'To Kill a Mockingbird' from recommended resources

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Surrey, B.C. -

A Surrey high school teacher is criticizing the school district following its decision to remove novels such as Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" from its recommended resources lists.

Michael Musherure, an English teacher at Earl Marriott Secondary School, said he’s disappointed in the move and plans to continue teaching the novels despite the district’s verdict.

“I don’t think in education there’s the easy way,” he said. “The right way is teaching history the way it is and these books help us with that.”

Ritinder Matthew, an associate director of communications with the district, 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.

According to Matthew, the decision to move away from Lee’s novel wasn’t an outright ban. Lee's novel and others on the list, such as John Ball's "In the Heat of the Night," will still be available for teachers to utilize and will remain in school libraries.

'They don't want to run away from it'

Despite the district allowing educators to still use the books, Musherure thinks it will have an impact.

“When you do not recommend the books, you put stigma on the books,” he said. “And when there’s that stigma, what teacher is going to want to teach that book?”

Musherure has taught English for nearly 14 years. He said he’s never heard complaints from parents or students about the novels.

“Students want to learn history,” he said. “They don’t want to run away from it.”

The Surrey School District said it’s heard otherwise – implementing a year-long review of the literature after receiving numerous complaints from parents. During the review, a number of issues with the novels were identified, such as the portrayal of Black characters as one-dimensional, the use of the "white savior" trope and ableist language.

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

Calls for more anti-racism resources

Markiel Simpson with the BC Community Alliance applauded the district’s decision, saying the group had heard from Black students about the harms these learning materials had caused.

“We really need to centre the voices of students,” he said.

Simpson said he’d like to see other school districts follow in Surrey’s footsteps, and added more can always be done when it comes to supporting teachers in the province.

“I think en masse in education in B.C., teachers aren't given the resources to properly teach anti-racist curriculum, and that’s one of the things we’ve been advocating for.”

Musherure agrees with the notion of more training, saying he approaches his teaching through an anti-racist lens.

The English teacher said some of the alternative novels the district has suggested lack historical context.

“To understand ‘The Hate You Give’ by Angie Thomas, you need to know where that hate comes from, and you need to know the history,” he said.

Ignoring that history is something the veteran teacher fears in the district’s latest decision. It’s a history he said books like "To Kill a Mockingbird" were able to convey.

“They give us an idea of what life was like then for Black people, and we know for Black people, it’s been a history of dehumanization,” he said. “If we want to stop that we have to teach the history. Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it, and we don’t want to repeat it.” 

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