Students in Duluth will no longer automatically get schooled in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or the trials of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
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.
Stephan Witherspoon, president of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP, called the move “long overdue.”
The literature has “oppressive language for our kids” Witherspoon said, and school should be an environment where children of color are learning equally. There are other novels with similar messages that can be taught, he said.
“Our kids don’t need to read the ‘N’ word in school,” Witherspoon said. “They deal with that every day out in the community and in their life. Racism still exists in a very big way.”
The classic novels will be replaced with other, yet-to-be-determined books.
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird” tells of a white Depression-era lawyer in a small town in the south who defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. It was typically taught in 9th grade in Duluth schools.
Mark Twain’s 1885 novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” the story of a white boy becoming friends with a runaway slave as they escape down the Mississippi River, was taught in 11th grade.
Controversy over the classic literature isn’t new in Minnesota or nationally, where their use has been debated in school districts across the country.
Carey said Duluth teachers will be “key” in helping to select new texts.
“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 said.