Soon Title I classrooms all over the country will have access to free copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, a pivotal novel in the lexicon of American civil rights, thanks to a special edition being distributed by the AFT and First Book. The AFT edition marks the union’s commitment to teaching human and civil rights to everyone—including students in the low-income communities where Title I schools are situated—and was made possible when the estate of author Harper Lee granted rare permission to publish it. The edition release was announced Oct. 18 at the AFT’s Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Conference in Montgomery, Ala., Lee’s home state; each conference participant—nearly 300 AFT leaders, members, allies and civil rights advocates—received a copy.
The book has special resonance for AFT President Randi Weingarten, who spoke at the conference. “When I was in the classroom teaching in New York City, I used To Kill a Mockingbird as a vehicle to address racial inequality and social injustice, and to spark discussion among my students about serious issues in our country that are still serious today,” says Weingarten. “This helpful novel tackles head-on the issues of race, class and gender inequities in our country, but also shows how ordinary Americans can show courage and compassion.”
To Kill a Mockingbird, first published in 1960, details the racially charged trial of an innocent black man in the Deep South, and its impact on his community, including the white lawyer who represents him and the lawyer’s impressionable young daughter, Scout. Teaching the book opens opportunities to discuss how the novel’s themes resonate today, and also how its 1960s-era perspective demonstrates a lack of voice for the African American characters in the novel.
Ten thousand copies of this limited edition have been printed. Teachers and school support staff at Title I schools—where low-income families make up the bulk of the community—can apply to receive from five to 30 copies of the book for their classroom collections. Every two weeks, 25 classrooms will be selected to receive the books. And everyone can access free, book-related lesson plans and activities through Share My Lesson, the AFT’s online resource by and for educators.
“Our classrooms should be safe spaces for open and honest dialogue, which is why we have pressed so hard for resources to fund our future and for the professional autonomy to ensure that we have the freedom to teach,” says Weingarten, in an introductory letter that is part of the AFT edition. “Public education is the bedrock of our democracy, and by having books like To Kill a Mockingbird in our classrooms, we can encourage young people to engage in civic participation, ask questions and make a difference in their communities.”
[Virginia Myers, Leslie Getzinger]