For the past month or so my boys and I have been living in 1935. In Maycomb, Alabama. We have felt the berating accusations of Mrs. Lafayette Dubose as we walk outside, and my eldest has been mimicking Scout’s thoughtless exclamations, “What the sam hill are you doing?!….But Atticus, he has gone and drowned his dinner in syrup!”
Yes, we have been reading To Kill a Mockingbird, little knowing that this would be the book my boys would read as its author prepares to leave this world. For me, that book was Cry the Beloved Country when Alan Paton died in 1988, my senior year of high school. Both books teach us something about race relations and the innate dignity of humanity. My boys finished the novel on Thursday, Ms. Lee passed away Friday morning, we watched Gregory Peck magnificently portray Atticus Finch that night in our basement, and then we attended our local repertory theater to see the play performed Saturday evening. This week we will be involved in one final project to close out our time with Jem and Jean Louise Finch. They will choose to construct the Radley home, create a storyboard of one of their favorite, meaningful scenes, or write an obituary for one of the book’s deceased characters. I will leave it up to them.
There was occasional complaining this month around the amount of work related to this book, but I am proud of their efforts, especially as they struggled to think through issues. Typically, we would have enjoyed this book together as a read aloud, but five-year-old G presented a problem. Due to the sensitive subject matter, and the fact that he soaks everything up that his brothers are involved in, I decided to have them read the book on their own, working through it at a similar pace. They wrote out definitions to new vocabulary they encountered in the chapters. They composed a few summaries or written narration of sections. They answered comprehension questions either in written form (neat handwriting, complete sentences) or in a discussion forum. We often used the questions found here online. Occasionally, I pulled a quote by Atticus to use as dictation.
We did some preliminary research on the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and Jim Crow laws. We used the few sites where I provide the links here. And we also used this one to learn a bit about the author herself, as well as her childhood friend Truman Capote. My guys had a good time examining the map we found online of fictional Maycomb. They traced the steps Jem would have taken to retrieve his torn overalls, and the route the children may have taken to sneak out after Atticus the night before the trial.
Graciously, a semi-retired judge of the Court of Appeals of Indiana, whom we met at our church, willingly ate lunch with my kids, and a couple of other homeschooling families, and talked with them about the law and the United States Constitution. What made this a particularly meaningful meeting was that our friend happened to be African-American and he happened to be raised in the South during the 1940s and 1950s. Not only were our kids able to ask him questions about his family members and personal experiences, but he also took the time and care to impart words of wisdom similar to Atticus Finch’s – always do what is right, there are other ways of handling things when you are angry, and there are proper ways of engaging with people who disagree with you. I am elated our kids were able to take advantage of this opportunity to listen to a live person of this caliber speak of historical and meaningful things. And all I had to do was ask. I am constantly on the move to uncover ways people in our community can help me supplement my children’s education. I am so grateful our friend took the time to share with us.
As my family leaves Maycomb, Alabama, and as the world bids a grateful farewell to Nelle Harper Lee, I pray some of these memories and lessons remain with my children long after the vocabulary lists and written paragraphs are obsolete.
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-” chapter 3