MUSKOGEE High School takes

Thursday, August 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Muskogee High School notified English teachers Monday that "To Kill A Mockingbird" is now off the ninth grade required reading list.

Principal Terry Saul made the decision after complaints from some members of Muskogee's African American community. KOTV’s Glenda Silvey went to Muskogee and says Freshman English Teacher Tobi Fillman planned to teach "To Kill A Mockingbird" this year, as she has for the past seven. A week and a half away from the opening of school, she'll have to choose something else.

Harper Lee's story of the segregated south in the 1930's won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, and was made into a popular movie starring Gregory Peck in the role of lawyer Atticus Finch. It's been on most high school required reading lists for years. But Muskogee High School's principal says use of the "N" word makes it inappropriate for students. Terry Saul, Principal: "The mission of Muskogee High School is to develop a climate of mutual respect." Saul says his decision to remove ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ comes in response to complaints from some African American citizens and school employees. Basically we have a real diverse population like most schools do, so we're incredibly sensitive about making sure that nobody in that population is offended in any way."

Tobi Fillman, Teacher: "If they can take a novel without letting us defend it - especially the caliber of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,’ what else can they take away from us?" Tobi Fillman says the main point of the novel is overcoming racial prejudice. Atticus says, 'don't judge a person till you climb in their skin and walk around in it, and that's what I try to teach my kids." Fillman's students sometimes read the novel aloud in class, skipping the N word.

Danny Terry, student at Muskogee High School: "We talk about what it means and how you would feel. And the majority of my African American students say, 'you know, in that context, it doesn't bother us. I really liked it. It was really a nice book." Terry says the novel helped prepare him for real life. He didn't hear complaints from fellow students, and use of the “N” word didn't bother him. "Sometimes I think she kind of overused it, but then I know she tried to make her point on how they were treated."

University of Tulsa English Professor Gordon Taylor says it's an important part of our national literature. "I see ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ as a serious novel with a lot to say about human relations as well as race relations in America." Fillman says she'll do everything she can to keep ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ on Muskogee's reading list. "As Atticus says, 'If I don't stand up for what I believe in, then I can't hold my head up.'"

Principal Terry Saul emphasizes that "To Kill A Mockingbird" has not been banned, just removed from required reading. It will remain a book of choice, and any student who wants to read it may do so.