Grade 7: “Mockingbird” Inspires Mature Discussion of Justice and Racism
Students engrossed in finishing the classic Harper Lee novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird” reached a pivotal chapter in the book recently, sparking thoughtful conversation in Ms. Kelly Gaudet’s class.
Taking turns reading the chapter aloud, they heard the verdict of Tom Robinson through the voice of Scout, the daughter of Tom’s attorney, Atticus Finch. To enhance their comprehension, readers paused occasionally to hypothesize what might happen next, to define key vocabulary words such as “acquit,” and to explain archaic expressions used in the novel, which is set in Alabama in the 1930s.
After learning that Mr. Finch failed to get his client acquitted, students were asked to share one word that described the verdict. With a deep understanding of the story’s context, answers ranged from “realistic” to “unfair.”
Mrs. Gaudet affirmed these responses and asked, “Why weren’t we more surprised that Tom Robinson was found guilty?”
Arjun Bhonsle said, “I was hoping for a happy ending — that Atticus Finch would save the day.” However, he recognized that the culture at the time was prejudiced against black men accused of crimes against white women.
Led by Ms. Gaudet, students analyzed other scenes in the chapter as they considered questions such as “What do you think Atticus Finch whispered to Tom after the verdict was read?” and “What did the author want us to notice about the jury deliberation?” Such prompts led to a variety of topics in which the students were actively engaged in discussing, including peer pressure, justice, corruption, racism and politics.
To conclude, Mrs. Gaudet applauded students for the high caliber of their thinking and their mature analysis of the text. “I’m very impressed with how well you understand the characters and the novel. Any of you would make decent jurors who would be able to evaluate the evidence of a trial in an open and fair way.”
Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.