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THEUNE: Lessons learned from Atticus Finch: Most people are good

• Oct 9, 2018 at 4:00 PM

Just two weeks ago, 21 students and five chaperones came back from Spring Lake’s 12th annual trip to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. On our three-day/two-night stay, we saw three productions (a Shakespearean play, a modern play and a musical, usually) and get to hang out in a town where the economic center is the arts. It’s simply wonderful.

If you’ve never been, it’s well worth the drive. I describe it as Broadway-level theater in a city the size of Holland, Michigan.

This year, the students and I were treated to a production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which reminded all of us of the importance of really listening, of being open to having our first idea of someone actually be the wrong idea of someone. You might remember from your high school curriculum that “To Kill a Mockingbird” uses a young female, Scout, to tell the story of a summer where she learned a lot about life — about racism, about standing up for what’s right, and about seeing the world from other people's’ perspectives.

Atticus Finch, Scout’s father, gives much sage advice in the book and play, including this golden nugget: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.”

This is the value of travel. The reason to take the students on a weekend trip into Canada is not just to see theater. It is not just to get away from home for a bit. It’s not even to give poutine a try.

I want students to see things from a different point of view: to watch theater they might otherwise never see, to understand even the minor differences in culture across the border, to meet people they’ve never met — yes, on the Canadian streets, but also the people sitting next to them in the school vans, the people walking in the same hallways as them.

Really, it’s remarkable when we think of the halls. Students find their groups and stick with them. Who can blame them? We adults do the same thing. I do, anyway. I have my pack of friends. Of course, I’m always willing to meet new people, but, if I’m being honest, I stick with my pack for the most part. So, it’s no surprise that we all need a reminder of the good in most people.

Actually, that very sentiment is reflected at the end of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Scout says, about Boo Radley, the recluse who saved her life, ”He was real nice.” To that, Atticus responds, “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

That one line — felt by every person in the theater, young and old — electrified the energy about my research project for my upcoming trip to the Netherlands. I want to show students, through podcast interviews, that there are other teens like them in other parts of the world. That’s it, plain and simple. I want to prove, one story at a time, that Atticus was right: Most people, most teens, are good when you finally see them, or, in the case of The Share Chair Podcast, when you finally listen to them.

— By David Theune, Tribune community columnist

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