Thursday, February 22, 2018

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Duluth schools book removal draws ire 

National anti-censorship group urges reversal of decision to strike ‘Mockingbird’ and ‘Finn’ from the curriculum

DULUTH, Minn. — A national anti-censorship group is urging the Duluth school district to reconsider its decision to remove “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from its curriculum.

Earlier this week the district decided to remove the books — which contain racial slurs — from the curriculum “to protect the dignity of our students” and not require them to read books that marginalize them, said Michael Cary, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.

The National Coalition Against Censorship, a New York City-based group of 56 artistic, educational, religious and labor nonprofit organizations, said in a statement Wednesday that it was “deeply disturbed” by the district’s decision. It’s also asking the district to include teachers in the review of next year’s curriculum.

The First Amendment binds public schools to “prioritize legitimate pedagogical interests above the subjective viewpoints of individual members of the community,” according to the coalition. It stated that parents who object to an assigned book can request an alternative.

“But no parent or group of parents is qualified to make the choice of what other children should read,” the coalition stated. “Those choices are made by teachers who can assess the intellectual maturity of their students and direct discussions on sensitive subjects toward educationally enriching ends. It is regrettable that teachers were not consulted before the decision to remove these classic works was made.”

The two books will continue to be available in Duluth school libraries and can be optional reading for students, but beginning next school year, they’ll be replaced as required reading by other literature that addresses the same topics in ninth- and 11th-grade English classes, the district said.

The curriculum change is supported by the Duluth chapter of the NAACP. Chapter President Stephan Witherspoon said the books use “hurtful language that has oppressed the people for over 200 years.”

The National Coalition Against Censorship said it’s understandable that a novel “would generate discomfort among some parents and students” due to its repeated use of a racial slur, but racial tensions won’t be solved by taking books out of 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 of people of color,” the coalition stated.

Tribune News Service


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