It is good-hearted and well-meaning but, unsurprisingly for a book published more than 60 years ago, some of its language and the “white saviour” narrative is at odds with widely accepted values of today’s world.
So the decision by James Gillespie’s High School in Edinburgh to drop the book from its syllabus, along with John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, does have some justification. But is it the correct one?
According to Professor Geoff Palmer honorary president of the Edinburgh and Lothians Equality Council, “you can't solve racism by putting texts with uncomfortable realities in the bucket”. “It's part of the story of racism. We need to keep it, teach it and explain it,” he added. “To me the book is an opportunity to discuss, debate and to learn from.”
If we are to rid our society of racism, everyone needs to understand why it exists, where it comes from and why it is so wrong and so utterly unacceptable.
Devising a different way of using the book, or a similar classic of bygone times, to educate our children would require careful and thoughtful handling.
However, as a general principle, we need to face up to and talk about our past, rather than attempting to cover up chapters of which we are no longer quite so proud, if we are to build a better future.