Duluth schools removes 2 American classics from required reading due to racial slurs

The Duluth chapter of the NAACP called it a move that was long overdue.

What's happening?

Beginning next school year, high school students in the Duluth school district will no longer be required to read Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." 

Both books, long part of the district's mandatory curriculum, are being removed as required reading due to their use of racial slurs.

The literature will still be available in school libraries as optional reading material. 

Why remove them from required reading?

"Both of these novels make regular use of racial slurs, and we've heard concerns over time from students and community members about the use of these two novels as required reading," Duluth school district's communications coordinator Kathleen Kaufman said in an email to GoMN. 

"While we believe it's important to address race and its impact on society and our community, subjecting students to racial slurs as part of required curriculum is not the approach that we support. As a result, we are planning to find alternatives to these novels for use as required reading."

It's unclear yet what literature the district will insert into its curriculum.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, it's a welcome, but long overdue decision, for the Duluth chapter of the NAACP. 

Chapter president Stephan Witherspoon told the newspaper that while some think the novels are educational literature for students, he says they are "just hurtful" and use "hurtful language that has oppressed the people for over 200 years."

This has happened before

Controversies over one or both of these books rear their heads every few years.

The Washington Post covered a similar attempt to remove the books from the curriculum at a school in Mississippi last October, noting that "Mockingbird" has about 50 references to the n-word while "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" displays the n-word more than 200 times. 

Both books are no stranger to controversy. According to the American Literary Association (ACA), Huck Finn was 14th and To Kill a Mockingbird 21st on the most "banned and challenged books" list between 2000 and 2009.

The "Harry Potter" series was first.

Previous efforts to pull the books from school curriculums have led to complaints of censorship, while groups such as Facing History has compiled guidelines on how to discuss sensitively the racial and sexual assault themes in the classroom.

Duluth East, Denfeld, and Academic Excellence Online are the high schools in the Duluth school district.

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