It is time for us to once again have this discussion.
The Duluth School District has removed Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn from its curriculum due to both books’ use of racial slurs toward blacks.
Online, the decision is sparking a bit of outrage.
— Star Tribune (@StarTribune) February 7, 2018
The responses to this tweet are largely negative, and there are many people across social media who disagree with the board’s decision.
From the Star Tribune’s story on the subject, here is the board’s rationale (emphasis mine).
In an effort to be considerate of all students, the two novels, which contain racial slurs, will no longer be required reading in the district’s English classes next school year. They will still be available in the schools for optional reading, however.
“The feedback that we’ve received is that it makes many students feel uncomfortable,” said Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction for the district. “Conversations about race are an important topic, and we want to make sure we address those conversations in a way that works well for all of our students.”
Cary said the decision, made as a group by district leaders and leaders in Duluth’s secondary schools, came after years of concerns shared by parents, students and community groups. The change was announced to district staff members late last week.
The board’s decision is more rational than some of the ones we’ve seen in the past, where districts outright ban these books because of the use of the N-word. They are just not making it required reading anymore.
The topic is a lot more than just a discussion of banning books. Because the district isn’t banning the books outright, that leaves students with the opportunity to read it as part of their education, and it does allow for the topics of racism and equality to still be read and discussed.
I admit that my knee-jerk reaction was to get angry with the school board, as others did, but there is something to be said about the comfort level of the students involved. If they feel targeted by the language in the book, then that will certainly make them feel isolated and distract from the overall lessons the books provide.
There are ways to address the othering of different races and overcoming racial differences. There are whole reading lists devoted to doing so without the language either of the books provides, and those reading lists are made by teachers. You know, the folks who do this for a living.
However, there is something to be said for guiding the students into having these discussions. When the issue of racial language is divisive, it is incumbent on the next generation to learn to grapple with it. That is how you can affect the type of change the books were originally meant to spark.
It is not and should not be one of those “Suck it up” conversations. Instead, it should be a community discussion. Whether it’s the online community, the Duluth community, or any northern or southern community, it is a discussion that should happen. We have to make sure, however, that it’s a discussion that people will want to take part in.
It should not be one they are forced to take part in, and I think, even though I disagree with the Duluth school board’s decision, they are approaching it in a fair way.