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Sunday, June 05, 2022 

Canadian school board removes Agatha Christie book rather than teach why the racism in her novels is no longer relevant

British mystery novelist Agatha Christie was notorious in her time for racism and antisemitism that was, unfortunately, written with malice in mind. A Canadian school board in Ontario recently removed And Then There Were None from their curriculum, rather than take a more ideal approach with the manuscript (via the Algemeiner):
According to a memo, the board is following the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) professional advisory on Anti-Black Racism which cited the recently amended 1996 Ontario College of Teachers Act (OCTA). The act stipulates that “making remarks or engaging in behaviours that expose any person or class of persons to hatred on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination under Part 1 of the Human Rights Code’ is an act of professional misconduct.”

A spokesperson for the UCDSB said in a statement that And Then There Were None was last used in July 2021 as part of a self-guided summer school continuing education course accessed by 27 students. When offensive content was noted, it was removed from the course.

“The text was first published around 1939 and is no longer relevant or engaging to students,” said the spokesperson. “The Upper Canada District School Board regularly reviews its curriculum offerings and course materials to ensure we are offering fresh, engaging, timely and relatable materials to students.”

While the memo does not explain what anti-Semitic references the board is concerned about, it is known that a character in the novel, titled Mr. Morris, is referred to as “little Jew,” “Jewboy,” and as having “thick Semitic lips.”

The mystery novel is also criticized for its racist former titles. It was originally named after a minstrel song containing an anti-Black slur. The title was changed to And Then There Were None upon publication in the United States in 1940, but later adaptations also used the title Ten Little Indians.
See, that's the sad thing about the original approach Christie used for several of her novels, something the filmmakers who adapted them likely don't discuss. The article, however, also says:
“Although I deplore book-banning, I am also very leery about the way the conversation around ‘free speech’ is being weaponized by right-wing politicians, opinion makers, and media,” said Gregory Mackie, associate professor in the department of English language and literatures at the University of British Columbia, in an email.
If this was supposed to imply right-wingers are in favor of teaching the book in schools for the wrong reasons, it's pretty insulting, as it seems to exempt left-wingers from any blame for mistakes made. Such opportunism coming from academics to attack conservatives is not helpful.

And a shame the school board wouldn't consider teaching the book for the right reasons, as argued in the following:
Marvin Rotrand, National Director of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights, says he can find no convincing proof of overt anti-Semitism in this book, but adds some of the descriptions of the characters reflect the attitudes of the time.

“I’ve seen some critics write that they wish a few lines weren’t in the book, but all seem to agree that it would be better to teach the book and provide historical perspective for the readers than to ban it,” Rotrand said.

“I am not calling for others to emulate the example of the Upper Canada District School Board. Teachers should provide the historical perspective needed, as they do in teaching Shakespeare, so that the high school reader can recognize the books literary merit and comprehend how Christie’s writing reflected the attitudes of her time.”
I think on the one hand, the guy's being too soft on Christie, but on the other, the board could teach what's wrong with Christie's MO from a modern perspective. Too bad they won't take that kind of approach to education, sadly.

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