The Duluth school district has removed To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from their required reading. This is due to the books’ usage of a racial slur, and the curriculum change has been supported by the local NAACP chapter.
The books have not been banned from the schools’ campuses, will remain in the libraries, and can be used as optional reading for students, but they will be replaced by other literature that addresses similar topics in ninth and eleventh grade English classes at the beginning of the next school year.
“The school district intends to be considerate of all its students,” said Michael Cary, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction. “The district owes it to its students to not subject them to a racial slur that marginalizes them in their required learning,” adding that district leaders felt that there are many other options in literature that can teach the same lessons as the two novels without containing a racial slur.
“We felt that we could still teach the same standards and expectations through other novels that didn’t require students to feel humiliated or marginalized by the use of racial slurs,” Cary said.
The removal of the books from required reading is a result of a variety of complaints over a number of years. Superintendant Bill Gronseth said the Duluth school district heard from a number of students that the book’s use of the slur created an uncomfortable atmosphere for them.
Stephan Witherspoon, president of the local chapter of the NAAP, applauded the school district’s decision, saying the use of “hurtful language that has oppressed the people for over 200 years” reduces the educational value of the literature. Gronseth said the district’s focus is to teach the lessons contained in the books and is transitioning to other literary sources that are “more universally appropriate.”
“It fits really well into the equity work that we’re doing, making sure that what we’re using as core curriculum is a good experience for all of our students. When curriculum materials are making some students feel uncomfortable, then we need to make a better choice.”
Honestly, I’m ecstatic about this decision. When I was in high school reading these books, the racial slurs made me uncomfortable, made friends uncomfortable. Reading out loud in class became stressful. Will my passage include a word I don’t want to say?
The decision to remove the books from the curriculum without banning them from libraries is a fantastic one. The books are a part of American literature, yes, but that doesn’t mean we should parade them through the streets on a pedestal. They’re a reflection of the times they were written in, but American society has progressed and many find such language hurtful, so why are we still requiring our children to see it?
The decision is one towards a better future, and I’m hoping other school districts follow suit.
Featured Image Via Duluth News Tribune.