What Atticus Finch can teach us about educational reform

Fifty years ago this week, Harper Lee published "To Kill a Mickingbird" and in doing so introduced the world to Atticus Finch, the lawyer who stood up against racism in the 1930's in a small Southern town. He did so not because he wanted to make a statement or move on to bigger and better things, but because he felt it was the right thing to do for the defendant (Tom Robinson) and his own conscience.

Recently there have been those who have stated that Atticus' methods would not work today because they are not forceful or vocal enough to be heard. If the novel were written or published today, maybe he would have held a one hour special on CNN (or Oprah?) and announced his intentions to actually defend Tom Robinson even though most believed he should not?

But I doubt it.

Atticus firmly believed in himself and allowing the opinions of others the respect they deserved. He didn't force his opinion on others via shouting matches or violence. He choose to do what was right and allow that to speak for his beliefs knowing that it was the best thing for his client and the society as a whole.

Even though many changes have taken place since the publication of the novel there may be a lesson to be learned from Atticus' method. While we can use social media to help spread word of the great things going on in education, we should concentrate on what's important in our own classroom for our students.

(spoiler alert! :)) Atticus expectedly loses the case in the novel but his defense and the trial has created a slight ripple in the town that had been well entrenched in racism. The question that follows is this: will that ripple we create in our classroom be enough?


  1. I love the comparison to Atticus Finch, but I am not sure that ripple is enough for improving education. Of course it is important to concentrate on what is important in our own classrooms with our own students, but I think it is also important to make sure that every student is being cared for in that same way. If we do not do whatever we can in order to improve education everywhere, we are leaving some students behind. Every teacher should be doing everything in their power to improve education and increase the overall literacy of their students, but the reality is that some teachers don't make that effort. For the students of that type of teacher, it is important to do everything we can to make sure that teachers are educated about the importance of being truly vested in their students, and about different ways in which they can improve their instruction.

  2. I agree with the post above that literacy is often overlooked by teachers in content areas where the importance of literacy is directly evident such as the sciences or math. The main goal that every teacher should keep in mind is that they provide students with the necessary tools in order to suceed in a variety of different fields. Although the ripple effect might be enough for the indivdual classroom it is still necessary to keep the main goal of teaching in mind.


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