“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which contain racial slurs, will no longer be required reading for students in the Duluth Public School district’s English classes next fall. However, the books are not banned: They will be available in the school as optional reading for students, the News Tribune reported.
The decision comes two months after a Virginia school temporarily banned the two novels after a parent complained that her high school-age son was negatively impacted by the books’ racial slurs. In October, the school board in Biloxi, Mississippi, removed “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which won a Pulitzer Prize for author Harper Lee, from the curriculum of an eighth-grade class, the Sun Herald reported. The school, however, reversed is decision in late October, but required students to get a permission slip from their parents in order to participate in the class, the Sun Herald reported.
In Minnesota, school officials said the decision to remove the two novels was in response to concerns from students and parents.
“The feedback that we’ve received is that it makes many students feel uncomfortable,” Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction for the Duluth Public School district, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “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 told the News Tribune that district leaders believed other literary options could impart the same lessons as the two novels.
"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," he said.
Stephan Witherspoon, president of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP, called the move “long overdue, like 20 years overdue,” he told the News Tribune.
The literature has “oppressive language for our kids” Witherspoon told the Star Tribune. “Our kids don’t need to read the ‘N’ word in school. They deal with that every day out in the community and in their life. Racism still exists in a very big way.”
A racial slur appears 219 times in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” published in 1885 by Mark Twain; and 48 times in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” published in 1960.
Witherspoon told the News Tribune that it was wrong to include the books in Duluth’s curriculum.
“There are a lot more authors out there with better literature that can do the same thing that does not degrade our people,” Witherspoon said.
Cary said Duluth’s teachers will play a key role in selecting new texts for students to read.
“We’re doing this out of consideration of the impacts on our students and specifically different groups of students in our schools, and especially our communities of color,” Cary told the Star Tribune.