Dr Sandra Beale-Ellis, has been a committed fan of Harper Lee’s legendary 1960s novel To Kill A Mockingbird since she studied it at school back in the early eighties. She reads the novel often, used quotations from it throughout her doctorate, and has even fallen in love with the film and play depictions of the powerful story which is centred around a young black man accused of raping a white girl. The story is told through the eyes of two children, whose father Atticus Finch is appointed to defend Tom Robinson. School boards are now removing it from the curriculum, a decision it seems, to originate from Michael Gove, Education Secretary.
Dr Beale-Ellis, 46, is a Doctor of Education, having studied at the Sheffield Hallam University, and spent time researching the learning experiences of young autistic individuals and her thesis was written through their eyes and voice.
She explains, 'To Kill a Mockingbird has been a powerful influence in my life. I fell in love with the story from the age of 14 when it was on the curriculum for my O’level English Literature. It was so powerful it grabbed me immediately. I have my original book still with notes in the margins, and I read it every year without fail. The thought that school children will not be given the opportunity to discover such wonderful literature, simply because of its country of origin, is very sad and I am adamant this is a wrong decision’. Mr Gove is the same age as me and would likely have studied it at school himself’.
There are many interesting characters in the novel, including the reclusive character of Boo Radley. There has been discussion over the years of Boo being autistic which Dr Beale-Ellis clearly identifies with. She was herself diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome just a few years ago and wonders if there was some strange power drawing her towards the story and its complex characters.
She said ‘in my opinion this is far greater than a story about sexual violence. It teaches the reader that regardless of race or any other minority, everyone should be treated the same, with respect and consideration, and that people should never judge before they know the full truth. These aspects are shown in the story, not only with regards the young man being accused, but also of Boo Radley’s character.’
‘There are also other lessons to learn for example a quotation I used in my doctoral thesis relating the research method of ethnography ‘you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them’ (Lee, 1960:283). It really is a lifelong education that everyone should be encouraged to read’.
Dr Beale-Ellis has loved to read from the age of four years old, covering pretty much every Enid Blyton book written and being a member of her fan club at the age of 8. She devoured Noel Streatfeild’s ‘shoe’ books. ‘Both of these are English authors and their work is wonderful to read. However as an autistic individual myself, I struggle with the ‘old English’ play type novels of Shakespeare, Bronte and the like; I often find the words difficult to interpret. Macbeth was a nightmare for me to learn at school although I do still remember a few lines. I love literature and have the bust of Shakespeare on my desk right now to inspire my writing’.
‘Please Mr Gove, give the children the opportunity to choose what type of literature suits them and let them have an international pick and mix to choose from’.
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
Dr Sandra Beale-Ellis
Contact 01227 370055, 07966 403271
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