WWAFD? (What Would Atticus Finch Do?)

Hi Readers! Normally I just tweet the lovely essays that come my way, linked from other sites. This one I have to recommend right HERE, to make sure everyone knows about it. It’s titled, “The Best Parenting Book You Will Ever Read,” which happens to be “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The piece (from Australia!) addresses several situations in a Then vs. Now way, such as:

• There’s a reclusive man living in your street. Widely believed to have stabbed his elderly father in the leg with scissors. Probably kills and eats cats.

What we do now: Sadly the police can’t do much unless someone found bloody scissors or saw a cat in a sandwich, so the next step would be to get the media to investigate. Then we’d get a petition together to have the man moved. Possibly via a Facebook page. Only then would children be allowed out unaccompanied.

What Atticus did: He told Scout and Jem to respect the man’s privacy. Also, they were not to refer to him by his nickname, ‘Boo’ but as ‘Mr Arthur.’ When the kids tried to lure him from his home and were chased by Arthur’s father with a gun, Atticus sided with the old man.

• Six year old daughter complains twelve year old brother bosses her around. She asks ‘do I have to do what he says?’

What we do now: Investigate what is causing the conflict. Is daughter not being given enough attention? Is son being bullied and is therefore exhibiting bullying behavior? Are the children unsettled because their father is a single parent? Are they spending too much time together? Should separate schools be considered?

What Atticus did: He took Scout on his lap and said, ‘Let’s leave it at this: you mind Jem whenever he can make you. Fair enough?’ That gave both kids a something think about.

The rest of the essay is just as good. I loved it. — L.

37 Responses

  1. Love it … any chance we can see the rest of the essay?

  2. G’day Mad Cow, If you click Lenore’s ‘This One’ link in her opening para you will see the entire piece.

  3. There was an incident here recently, I wrote you privately about it. 30 years ago, it would have been ignored. Now? The police and courts are involved.

  4. Thanks! I love it!

  5. Six year old daughter insists on reading despite teacher’s insistence that pushing too hard on the wrong skills will damage her.

    What we do now: assume the trained professional knows best, OR march into the school and create a ruckus.

    What Atticus did: let Scout keep reading at home when she wanted to, and told her not to argue with her teacher.

  6. I loved that book when we read it in high school. I do agree it’s the best parenting book of the 20th century. All parents should emulate Atticus Finch!

  7. That’s a great book and a great article.
    Then: To Kill a Mockingbird
    Now: A Shore Thing by Snookie.
    Isn’t progress great?

  8. my fave book ever. ever. ever. gotta love Atticus.

  9. This is such great reality check! Love this post! I wish I could distribute it at my place of employment… a local daycare. I once was one of those Moms/Teachers who rose to a fever pitch over the smallest issues. Having three children now, and listening to my Mom, has brought me back to earth. Parenting need not be so complicated, or anxious. I love your blog, because it reminds me of this truth daily!

  10. HI Lenore, Well we move to Michigan next week from Melbourne, Australia. I have been teachng Cam (12) a little American history so he knows a little bit of why you guys have Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King day etc etc and we recently had Mockingbird day!!! We watched the film together and he got soooo into it and now he has pinched my copy of the book! Yay for Harper Lee. I think he was quite envious of how the kids were just left to their own devices.

  11. I love To Kill a Mockingbird!

  12. Despite never having seen the movie version, I still hear every one of these lines in my head being spoken by Gregory Peck.

  13. Excellent piece. The difference in how children used to be raised, and how we are raising our children today, I’d put it down to a little thing called — character.

    Instilling character would most certainly have been considered the main charge of the “attentive” parent of yesteryear. In contrast, today’s parents seem to be inordinately concerned with a child’s “winning” — academically, in sports and socially. The value of something that a child does, seems to be measured in how far it enables the child to have “the edge”.

    I’m sorry to say, this is a problem a had with the talk given by the founder of Playworks. (The video was linked to this website last week.) If I’m not mistaken, the message was that children should have recess because it’ll help make them into grown-ups that will “take action” when action needs to be taken.

    How about they should have recess simply because they are a population that is forcibly kept (school children can’t just leave the school when they feel like it) for hours at a time and to NOT give them time to freely move their limbs and breath fresh air would be inhumane and is therefore wrong?

    Heck, I don’t care if children having recess proves to lower test scores. That would not change the fact that it is the right thing to do. I get that the Playworks probably has to jazz up recess in order to sell what used to be a no-brainer (sad, that). But I hope we a society can learn to except that not everything has to have “pay off”.

    I try to remind myself that instilling character is what I’m here for as a parent, and to leave it to the teachers to handle the academic bit. Hard to check myself though, when I see my child not “realizing her potential” in say, math. But (hopefully) I’m getting there. And next time, I’ll try to remember to ask myself WWAFD?

  14. Just an irrelevant note.
    Has anyone noticed in the movie, the kids are constantly running or skipping everywhere, not calmly walking? And even when they’re talking to each other, or to grown-up neighbours, they seemingly can’t hold still, climbing onto tree branches, or hanging upside down from a rope.
    My kids are a bit like that, and sadly this attitude is considered now to be a sure sign of ADHD, instead of the normal little kid behaviour. Bit sad, IMO.

  15. If you loved TKAMB, you must read “The Quiet Game” by Gregg Iles (who, incidentally, was the lead guitarist for the Frankly Scarletts before he became a novelist and is now the nearest thing to a real musician the Rock Bottom Remainders – featuring Stephen King, Dave Barry and Amy Tan – have.) Anyway, “Quiet Game” is hands-down the best novel ever written about race relations and family in the modern South. Quick review – a Houston-prosecutor-turned-famous-novelist moves back home to Natchez with his young daughter after his wife dies of cancer, and gets involved with solving a 30-year old civil-rights murder. Stuff happens.

  16. http://www.kansas.com/2011/02/21/1729582/the-power-of-project-do-it-scouting.html

    Really neat article on implementing Free Range principles, although the mom doesn’t seem to have ever heard of the “movement.”

  17. This is so wonderful. Who knew when I was reading Mockingbird I was getting valuable parenting advice? (Hey, do we even know what happened to Scout’s mom?)

  18. The funny part is To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned from some public schools and libraries.

  19. I LOVED To Kill A Mockingbird. Thanks for sharing.

  20. It is ironic isn’t it…

    Here is the link to the American Library Association “Banned Classics” page with reasons why they were challenged or banned.


  21. very cool!

    good link, Jynet…

  22. I think all the classics are great parenting books and offer advice on how to let kids be kids. They might surprise you. Laura Ingalls Wilder,Tom Sawyer, Huck Fin, all of these kids lived in tough times and came through better, stronger, more interesting people for it!

  23. One of my favorite novels.

    I can’t remember the exact quote, but near the end Scout realizes that most people are nice.

    Maybe naive, but how is it less so than assuming most people are psychopaths?

  24. “I can’t remember the exact quote, but near the end Scout realizes that most people are nice.

    Maybe naive, but how is it less so than assuming most people are psychopaths?”

    Indeed. And most people *are* nice — it’s just that with maturity comes understanding what the limits of “nice” are when it comes to how much and what kinds of trust you should put in another person.

  25. This would be great except Mockingbird has been banned by a local group of whiny butts so the library doesn’t have it. (sarcasm)

  26. “Indeed. And most people *are* nice — it’s just that with maturity comes understanding what the limits of “nice” are when it comes to how much and what kinds of trust you should put in another person”

    I’d follow up with: What causes more harm? Sure, all generalizations are at least a little naive and potentially incorrect, but I think there’s a big behavioral gulf between assuming everyone is nice and assuming everyone is out to get you. Most of the time people are pretty nice, some of the time they’re mean, and extremely rarely they’re psychopathic. What’s more adaptive in the long run?

    And indeed, does paranoia and helicopter parenting actually provide any protection from those extreme fears?

  27. Hi Amy R, I’m the Mom (Mum) who wrote the Atticus essay. I’m a fan of Lenore’s – bought her book and enjoyed seeing her various appearances on her recent tour of Australia. Glad you liked my piece. It’s been fun reading the comments here – and on the original post at http://www.mamamia.com.au I can’t believe TKAM has been banned from some libraries in the USA. What a tragedy. Did they think the Pulitzer prize was a mistake? Best Regards, Kate

  28. Jane, Scout’s mom died when she was still a baby. They don’t talk about it a whole lot, but it’s mentioned a couple of times. I loved this essay, too. Last year, I read “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” – very different subject matter, but set in the same era and type of environment – and it really struck me how much more free-range EVERYONE was back then. Socialization for everyone was easier, life certianly had its drawbacks, but neighbors knew each other and simple delights like open horseshoes and carnivals on vacant lots abounded.

  29. Jynet, that list is why I never used the school library when I was in high school. (Also the fact that I never had time to go into the library played a part.)

    Although, a fair number on that list were actually required reading (Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, Nineteen Eighty Four and Brave New World, to mention a few.) Nice. For a public school, that was racists itself in many ways, the education for the the white kids expected to go to college wasn’t too bad. It really sucked for the minority kids who were expected to work at the soup factory though. (Because I came into the area as a teen, from an area with very little racism, it really stood out to me how unfair it all was.)

  30. Much more common sense back then. Much more common sense just 15 – 20 years ago. I just wonder how the paranoid parents of today were 15, 20, even 30 years ago? Have they always been fearful, were their parents the fearful ones? Or did something happen to them growing up which caused them to start fearing? I think it may be a little of both. But the common thing between the two, is that fear is taking control of their lives, and not for the good.

    I often wonder what has been removed from the curriculum in school. You’d think with all the paranoia regarding things in school, ie. pens, scissors, toy guns, toy soldiers, no sharing of food, no bringing of certain foods, etc… that certain books that contain certain subject matters would be banned as well. To Kill a Mockingbird, was about the fear of a recluse black man, causing harm to people, especially children, that the almost everyone was out to lynch him. Now I think that TKM, is one of my favorite literature in high school, but given the subject matter, would it still be allowed in schools. When all similar “dangerous” items are being banned? Same thing goes with Shakespear, and all other books containing stories of death, murder, betrayal, incest and some form of perversion. Point being, with all the picking and choosing of what is proper and what is not, it all becomes a blur. And the powers that be choose out of convenience for them, and not actual facts or benefits to the children.

  31. @EricS – The reclusive man isn’t black. He’s white and his family is wealthy. Also, it’s quite probable that he has a mental disorder that could make him dangerous, and this is why his family keeps him inside and secluded.

    Boo Radley is an enigmatic character, but from what I picked up from studying and dissecting this text in high school, I gathered that Boo has some sort of mental disability that makes him unstable and occasionally violent. He reaches out to the children because he’s been secluded for so long (by his family, because in those days having a family member like that was something you covered up if you could), that his social skills are on par with a six-year-old’s.

  32. I’ve wondered if Boo Radley was autistic. The stabbing of his father, the way it happened, fits with the idea that autistic people don’t fully grasp that other people are separate entities with feelings, and it might have seemed to him that it would just be interesting to find out what happened if you stuck a scissors into a leg like that. Harper Lee may not have known much about autism at that time, but she might have had experiences with people that fit a realistic pattern like that.

    It’s also important to keep in mind that not including a book in a curriculum is not “banning.” Obviously you can’t include very book that exists, and choices have to be made on some basis. The idea that a certain book might not be appropriate for kids at a certain age is not an evil thought, and reasonable people can disagree on appropriateness for different reasons. However, the standards you use for those decisions have to be reasonable ones, not paranoid or based on fallacies.

  33. @ Sera: yes, I stand corrected. He was a mentally challenged white male. I was mistaking him for Thomas (the man that was framed).

    But just because he is mentally challenged, doesn’t mean he’s dangerous. You have to remember, when the book was written, mental disabilities weren’t really known about, and many people feared what they didn’t know. Even in the book, the character of Boo Radley was also shown as a kind and thoughtful person. Who was trying to make a connection with the children (whom by the way was keeping more of an open mind about him than the adults were). His parents sheltered him all his life, with little interaction with the outside world, that he never learned social skills. Kind of sounds familiar with heli-parents these days don’t it. Even his own parents didn’t understand him and feared he would become violent and hurt the children.

    @ pentamom: I would have to agree with you about the autism. It does fit the pattern. But in regards to the “banning” of books, I think there is a paranoia and fear element to these decisions, and not a budget or curriculum issue.

  34. “But just because he is mentally challenged, doesn’t mean he’s dangerous.”

    Mentally ill people are not dangerous by definition, but he did attack his father. As I described, it was probably not with violent intent, but it’s not unreasonable to fear someone who goes around attacking people with scissors for no reason that anyone can fathom. So I think Sera’s characterization of “could make him dangerous” is fair enough.

  35. If I remember correctly, Jem’s arm was hurt pretty badly and was sticking out at a weird angle after the incident. So this raises an interesting possibility. Jem became socially and emotionally mature, while his arm was hurt. Or he could have been driven everywhere, hovered over by his father, and would not have had the experiences in the book to teach him valuable life lessons. But his arm would be ok.

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