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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Critique of ‘Mockingbird’ lifts the hood of Idaho Legislature’s educational intentions

UPDATED: Wed., April 28, 2021

I read “To Kill A Mockingbird” as a high school student in a small, conservative farm town in southern Idaho, way back in the early 1980s.

Little did I know I was being manipulated by leftist propaganda. Little did I suspect the pernicious intent of my English teacher, the school district and school board of that small, conservative farm town was to indoctrinate me with anti-white bias.

This is something I discovered recently while trying to keep up with events in the moronic tornado of the Idaho Legislature. From undercutting pandemic safeguards to giving guns more protection than children to an absurd and sustained panic about “anti-white” teaching on racism from pre-K to Boise State, Gem State lawmakers have been setting new lows for representational malfeasance, taking votes again and again that are bad for the state and especially its children.

Still, no one could have foreseen the bizarre critique of “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Rep. Heather Scott, the Confederate-flag-flying conspiracy nut from Blanchard. She raised it last Thursday in a floor debate that concluded with a vote to block salaries and benefits for thousands of Idaho teachers until more state-sanctioned, pro-white propaganda can be mandated for curricula.

Scott said she’d been contacted by a substitute teacher in the Boise area, concerned about messages in the 1960 novel by Harper Lee. This book, Scott said, was an example of how so-called “critical race theory” has been “creeping through our schools forever.”

The substitute told her, Scott claimed, that the novel teaches that “white people are bad, Black people are innocent victims, and the students were encouraged to believe that there was an endless era of Black victimization.”

That is one very odd description of a book that has been critiqued as a “white savior” narrative, and which offers the strong, true, white hero of Atticus Finch.

Perhaps Scott and the substitute teacher haven’t read the book. Or any other.

Scott also relayed concerns that Idaho schoolchildren were learning about too many “non-white race” writers.

“And the English class, (the substitute teacher) said it is more riddled with authors, like our founding historical fiction books and the books that kind of talk about the founding of this country, she said it’s been riddled with writings from third-world experiences by authors that are completely unheard of, but they are non-white race,” Scott said. “So any non-white author is basically being given priority over the historical readings.”

Just imagine the sea of white hoods, nodding with fervent agreement in the firelight.

I was taught “To Kill A Mockingbird” by a very good teacher who did not seem to be an anti-white Marxist. She taught us other great works with race as a theme, such as Faulkner’s “Intruder in the Dust” and Shakespeare’s “Othello.” I remember she told us that her own high school teacher had discussed the latter play entirely without mentioning that Othello the Moor – referred to frequently with such terms as “black ram” – was dark-skinned.

We all thought that was so funny and dumb. It might represent the future of teaching Othello if the Idaho Legislature gets it way.

As a teenager I responded to “To Kill A Mockingbird” in relatively straightforward terms as a tragic story with clear-cut moralities about racism in America. As I grew older, I began to see my experience of the novel – and the movie – in a more complicated light: as a story that let young, white Americans like me understand racism as a vestige of another time and place, a historic injustice now put to rest. My only remaining responsibility was to understand how bad it had been, and to feel righteous about my recognition of that.

I don’t know if this is the fault of the novel so much as the way in which it has been embraced as one of our main national stories about racism – a tragedy about racism that is ultimately very comforting to white people.

It’s obvious that most members of the Idaho Legislature are just deeply unfamiliar with any classroom anywhere. It’s clear, when they become panicked about anti-white indoctrination in preschool, that they have departed the real world altogether.

Left-wing indoctrination in Idaho schools is a mirage. It’s a MacGuffin meant to drive a narrative of white, racist overreaction attempting to produce actual indoctrination and destroy academic freedom.

It’s a whitewash. Bob Ewell would be proud.

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