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June 1, 2022 12:41 pm
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Local Canadian School Board Pulls Agatha Christie Novel Over ‘Antisemitic References’

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A photograph of the English novelist Agatha Christie taken at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Photo: Joop van Bilsen/Wikimedia Commons.

The Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) has told schools to stop teaching British author Agatha Christie’s 1937 mystery novel “And Then There Were None” due to “antisemitic references” in the book, Canadian media reported this week.

In a May 19 letter sent to board superintendents and school officials, the board cited the Ontario College of Teachers’ (OCT) advisory on Anti-Black Racism, which says that “making remarks or engaging in behaviors 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,” according to The National Post.

“This moment provides a strong reminder of the importance of reflecting on and acting on the harm that texts can perpetrate on students — texts that in another time might have appeared innocuous or contextually appropriate,” the board added. It also said the move to withdraw Christie’s book aligns with the “self-reflective practices” suggested in the advisory that include “inviting input on the types of material, readings, events and guest speakers that demonstrate a commitment to anti-oppressive, decolonial pedagogical practices.”

In the novel, a character named Mr. Morris is referred to as “little Jew,” “Jewboy,” and is said to have “thick Semitic lips.” The book has also been criticized for its former titles, having been originally published in the United Kingdom as “Ten Little [n-words]” and, later, as “Ten Little Indians.”

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Christie’s novels “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Death on the Nile,” “The Secret of Chimneys” and “Lord Edgware Dies” have previously been accused of promoting racism, xenophobia and antisemitic Jewish stereotypes.

A UCDSB spokesperson said in a statement that “And Then There Were None” was last taught in July 2021 as part of a summer school course, but was removed from the curriculum after offensive material was discovered in the book, The National Post reported.

“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.”

The school board’s decision has met some opposition, with Marvin Rotrand — national director of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights — calling for schools to instead teach how the book’s language reflects contemporary views.

“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 told the Toronto Sun. “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 book’s literary merit and comprehend how Christie’s writing reflected the attitudes of her time.”

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