The Duluth school district is removing Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from required reading over the use of a racial slur.
A specific challenge to the books did not trigger the removal, which was instead a response to several complaints about racial slurs registered by the district over the course of several years. The district will replace the novels, which were being used in 9th and 11th grade classrooms, with other books addressing the same topics, but those books have not been identified. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will remain available in district libraries and can be used for optional reading.
The local chapter of the NAACP supports the removal and members were reportedly actively involved in discussion with school administrators about the continued teaching of the novels. According to local reporting, district administration and school principals reached the decision in January. District teachers, who are in the best position to assess the intellectual needs of their students, were not consulted.
Upon learning of the removal, the National Coalition Against Censorship, of which CBLDF is a member, issued a statement opposed to the decision, speaking to the importance of the material as a tool for acknowledging and addressing racism:
While it is understandable that a novel that repeatedly uses a highly offensive racial slur would generate discomfort among some parents and students, the problems of living in a society where racial tensions persist will not be resolved by banishing literary classics from the classroom. On the contrary, the classroom is where the history, use and destructiveness of this language should be examined and discussed. It is there that the books’ complexities can be contextualized and their anti-racist message can be understood. Rather than ignore difficult speech, educators should create spaces for open dialogue that teaches students to confront the vestiges of racism and the oppression people of color.
NCAC further reminded the district of their First Amendment obligation to put the pedagogical interests of students above the viewpoints of individuals in their community and asked that the district reconsider their decision and include teachers in discussions of curriculum. You can read the full statement from NCAC here.
To Kill a Mockingbird is among the most challenged novels. NCAC also had to take action to protect the book in late 2017, when the school district in Biloxi, Mississippi, failed to follow its own challenge policy in pulling the book over a single complaint. The book was restored, but the district now requires parental permission before students can participate in its study.
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