What Would Atticus Think about Ferguson?


My juniors started To Kill a Mockingbird this week, and I am once again reminded of how timeless this novel is. I love teaching this book for several reasons. 1. Atticus – does there even need to be any other reason? 2. The setting is sweet home Alabama, and even though my home state is known for racism and obesity (I will address that as soon as I finish my cheesecake), this novel also shows that some people, even when in the minority, can look past the color of a person’s skin. 3. I love Southern literature – the brown snowman, the teacher from North Alabama who didn’t want Scout reading at home (those crazy North Alabama teachers), Miss Maudie’s Lane cake, etc.

I scheduled this book during my pre-planning days in August, and what I didn’t realize then is we all need some Atticus wisdom this first week of December with the happenings in Ferguson, Missouri. We need to be discussing the events of Ferguson with our children in order to help them process these issues. This post is not going to express my views or tell you what you should think; instead, I would encourage you to consider some Atticus advice.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (30) Try to understand where someone else is coming from even if you do not understand his or her actions.

“Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.  The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” (105) Learning to live with oneself requires one to think for oneself, not simply mimic the opinions of others.

“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down.  No matter what anyone says to you, don’t let ‘em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.” (76) Fighting doesn’t accomplish anything; use your intellect to change the world. 

“It’s not okay to hate anybody.” (246) Period.  

“Jem see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute.  I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take.  He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that household full of children out there.” (218) Being right and empathetic are not mutually exclusive; strive to be both.

Considering another person’s point of view is just as important in everyday life as in national events. I had the opportunity today to walk in a parent’s shoes after being heavily, and unfairly, criticized. Before my class is done with To Kill a Mockingbird, we will all take off our shoes and try on other classmates’ shoes both literally and metaphorically. Students will have the opportunity to walk in my houndstooth high heels (seriously) and feel the weight of being responsible for the education of young people; I will walk in their boots and feel the pressure of being a high school student. We may even try to walk in our principal’s and custodian’s shoes.

I am naive enough to believe that our world would be a better place if we all lived by Atticus’ words of wisdom.

Whose shoes will you take time to walk in this week?

3 responses to “What Would Atticus Think about Ferguson?

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