'Keep it, teach it, explain it': Sir Geoff Palmer blasts top school's decision to ditch To Kill A Mockingbird over 'dated' depiction of race

Sir Geoff Palmer, Professor Emeritus in the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University in EdinburghSir Geoff Palmer, Professor Emeritus in the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh
Sir Geoff Palmer, Professor Emeritus in the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh
Human rights campaigner Sir Geoff Palmer has criticised a top school’s decision to scrap To Kill A Mockingbird from the classroom.

James Gillespie's high school said it no longer wants to teach classics like To Kill a Mockingbird because of its 'dated' depiction of race and promotion of a ‘white saviour’ narrative.

The school defended the move to scrap it as part of its efforts to decolonise the curriculum by bringing in modern texts that would better reflect diversity.

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Curriculum lead for English at the school has stated that the representation of people of colour in the classic book, published in 1960, is no longer relevant and cited the use of the ‘N’ word which appears around 40 times.

Instead, classes at the school will read works like Angie Thomas' award-winning book, The Hate U Give, written in response to the 2009 police shooting of Oscar Grant.

But Sir Geoff, who heads up body supporting engagement with diverse communities warned about the dangers of taking the book out of the curriculum as he believes it’s has a role to play in educating young people about racism.

The Honorary President of the Edinburgh and Lothians Equality council wasn't aware of the book being ditched and hadn’t been consulted on it.

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He said: 'We can't just throw the book in the bin. It's part of the story of racism. We need to keep it, teach it and explain it.'

"I fully support the principle of decolonisation of the curriculum but where would it stop? If we remove To Kill a Mockingbird is Othello next or the Slaves Lament?

"We have to be careful here. Instead of removing this book from classrooms we need to show how how the book embodies the racism of its time. That same racism that killed George Floyd. The injustice depicted in the text helps give us a view of and understand why we still have racism today. If we hide it away, the fact is we are saying children are not capable of understanding."

"It's not 'white centric'. The fact is black people at the time were not able to defend themselves in court. Today, we have black lawyers but recently we saw one being mistakenly perceived as the client. We still need to look at racism and explain it to help better understand where it comes from and why it's unacceptable."

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Sir Geoff who leads the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group called for a survey of pupils to inform any decisions to remove important literary works.

"Let's see evidence and ask the pupils their views before making these arbitrary decisions.

"To me the book is an opportunity to discuss, debate and to learn from. I don't want to see this approach being extended to other books with black people in the stories.

“You can't solve racism by putting texts with uncomfortable realities in the bucket. The next thing I want to hear from educational institutions is that they have removed racism, not books. That's an easy option, it's a diversion."

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The Evening News was unable to make contact with staff at the school.

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