The Musings of a High School English teacher in Baltimore City
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Notes from the classroom: Is the robin the same thing as a mockingbird?
I have several new favorite students this year, but one in particular is Keon. Today, we were talking about the title of the book for the first time, and why it is named To Kill a Mockingbird, and he raised his hand, and asked, "Is a mockingbird another name for a robin?" and I was sort of incredulous. I was thinking, "Geez, I know he's a city kid (and I hope everyone knows that the use of the term 'city kid' is in no way racist, but, rather, is literally about this kid being from the city, and not knowing the sort of things that I knew growing up in my farming community), but he should know that a robin is different from a mockingbird." I didn't react, but some kids laughed at him. He's a rough kid, his edges can scrape a little, and I thought he might blow up a little, but he didn't. Instead, he said one of the most insightful things I've heard a student say about this novel: "Naw, naw, I was wonderin' about that, 'cuz Tom Robinson has 'robin' in his last name, and he's like a mockingbird, because he don't do anything but help Mayella, and it's a sin to kill a mockingbird and he is killed, and I was wondering if a robin and a mockingbird were the same." And I got goosebumps, and nearly tears, because this is not something that any of the pre-directed questions led him to, and he's reading this book with a pen in hand, marking it up and asking me questions about it every few paragraphs in coach class, so I know this is a real interpretation. I then told everyone about the motif of birds that Harper Lee incorporates through the novel, and how Keon's insightful comment was the sort of analysis that shows both close and individual reading of the book, then told them about the last name of the main characters (Finch) and another kid brought up Mr. Underwood's "senseless slaughter of songbirds" editorial, and I thought, "Wow, they really have it."