Search icon


06th Jul 2021

School cancels To Kill a Mockingbird due to ‘white saviour’ narrative

Kieran Galpin

Could this usher in a reenvisioning of the classics?

James Gillespie’s High School in Edinburgh has banned the teaching of Pulitzer-winning To Kill a Mockingbird over fears of it promoting a “white saviour” narrative. Allan Crosbie, the curriculum leader for English at the school, is also banning Of Mice and Men in a bid to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum.

Mr Crosbie spoke at the annual meeting of the EIS teaching union:

“Probably like every English department in the country, we still have Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird [on] the shelves.

“They are now taught less frequently because those novels are dated and problematical in terms of decolonising the curriculum.

“Their lead characters are not people of colour. The representation of people of colour is dated, and the use of the N-word and the use of the white saviour motif in Mockingbird these have led us as a department to decide that these really are not texts we want to be teaching third year any more.”

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the classics taught across the country. The novel is narrated by Scout Finch, a six-year-old tomboy who lives with her lawyer father Atticus and her ten-year-old brother Jem. The book addresses issues of rape, racism, and the criminal justice system during America’s Great Depression. Despite race playing a central part in the novel, all of the central characters are white.

However, officials criticised this move, who say censoring literature is not the way to educate today’s youth. Conservative Oliver Mundell said:

“I believe that completely removing certain works from the syllabus would be a mistake.

“Before imposing any form of censorship, we should have a meaningful debate about what the policy for excluding specific books should be.

“Rather than denying children access to specific works of literature, perhaps we should introduce them with a subtext highlighting how times have changed and what we can learn from them.

“Schools have the responsibility to educate, not dictate.”

Students are, of course, free to read said books in their own time, but the literature taught in schools will focus more on contemporary texts like Angie Thomas’s award-winning book, The Hate U Give. But what makes a classic? There are thousands of unproblematic novels that address key issues in society without sacrificing political correctness.

Stephen Kelly, the headteacher at Liberton High in Edinburgh, offers an interesting perspective:

“I’m not saying that we’d ban To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men.

“But if you were going to teach something around what white saviourism actually is, you might use these books as an example”.

What he suggests is merely using these books as a demonstration of how times have changed. The world has dramatically evolved over the decades, so why shouldn’t the literature we offer to children depict that?