I read with interest the debate about pulling “To Kill a Mockingbird” (along with “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”) from the Duluth school curriculum (“In book debate, a painful turning of the page,” Feb. 11). I am wondering about some of the real reasons for deciding to remove the book. If one of the reasons is to create a vanilla learning environment where “everyone gets a trophy,” that is just wrong. Also, it is one of the great lessons learned in the book that growing up and finding out that the world is quite different from the world of inventing and playing games in our backyards — that the world can be a very cruel and unfair place.

There was also mention in the article that the book is “dated.” I am wondering when lessons like empathy, hypocrisy and integrity have become dated. When standing up for what you believe in and doing what you know is the right thing even when everyone is telling you not to have become dated. I might argue that “To Kill a Mockingbird,” with its life lessons, is even MORE relevant with what is happening in today’s world.

I hope school districts and educators think long and hard before sweeping aside a masterpiece of American literature.

John Atkinson, Fridley

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Good for Duluth for replacing “To Kill a Mockingbird” on its reading list. As author Shannon Gibney noted in the Feb. 11 article, it’s a white-savior narrative. Atticus is the hero, and it’s easy for white readers to imagine we’d do what Atticus did. More likely, we’d be the racist townspeople. If we want to talk about racism in the South, there are many other books to choose from. Let’s consider some others in which the relatively wealthy white man isn’t the hero of the story.

Kristin Boldon, Minneapolis

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Regarding the decision by the Duluth School District to drop Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from its curriculum, I am still trying to digest the district’s fine distinction between dropping and banning.

The book was a landmark in American literature, with Twain shifting from the mannered prose of his period (and of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”) to language modeled on the speech of real everyday people. The novel includes ungrammatical phrases, dialect, and — yes — the “N-word.” As is true of Twain’s “Pudd’nHead Wilson,” Twain’s “Huck Finn” demonstrates that bigotry is ridiculous and inhumane — see, for example, slave Jim’s speech to Huck about “trash.”

Education’s main goal is to expand the critical thinking of every student. It is not to fret about the comfort of students. I am a Jew. Fortunately, my instructors did not try to protect me from Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” or Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Half the time in “Oliver Twist,” Dickens refers to the villain Fagin as “the Jew,” and in the last portion of the novel Fagin metamorphoses into a half human/half rat. Drawing on his experience as a shorthand court reporter, however, Dickens also takes every drop of romance out of crime. Shakespeare portrays Shylock as a greedy, repugnant money lender pitted against the wise and good Portia. We all know, too, that in the interaction of his characters Shakespeare does give us one of the great speeches of a despised minority (“if you prick us, do we not bleed …”).

When I taught, I had a Jewish student who was sure a nice man like Shakespeare could not really be anti-Semitic. Shakespeare was, however, a 16th-century Christian and very much a man of his time. He was not like us in every way, and in our education the differences about him are as important as the ways he speaks directly to us.

I do not want any student to feel alienated when he reads great literature, but teachers and schools are supposed to be ever present to guide the student in all his educational experiences. That is their mission.

Frank Malley, Minnetonka


Obstacles to stronger gun laws are ‘political, not constitutional’

How do we stop the gun violence? (“Start with facts …,” editorial, Feb. 16.) How do we close the gates on the horrific bloodshed that floods our schools, music concerts and church basements? Our U.S. Supreme Court holds the key.

It appears in the 2008 Heller case, in which Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was embraced for his “originalist” views on the Second Amendment, wrote in the majority opinion: “… nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” In a footnote, Scalia added: “We identify these presumptively lawful regulatory measures only as examples; our list does not purport to be exhaustive.” We see that Scalia recommends a variety of firearm regulations.

Scalia’s Supreme Court opinion is ignored by the NRA and by our beloved Congress. In fact, the NRA recommends that schoolteachers carry guns and that felons be eligible gun buyers. Ironically, a bill passed the U.S. House and is in the Senate that allows concealed-carry laws to cross state lines. Holy cow! This is more congressional madness.

According to Duke University law Prof. Joseph Blocher, “roughly 95 percent of Second Amendment challenges brought since the 2008 Heller case have failed, and the evolving doctrine leaves ample room for reasonable gun regulations. The primary obstacles to stronger gun laws remain political, not constitutional.” In my view, those elected leaders who refuse to agree with Justice Scalia’s prohibitions have the blood of innocents on their hands.

Robert Strandquist, St. Paul

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The editorial stressing the need for research and facts in dealing with gun violence was absolutely correct. Since we can no longer count on our government to lead, we need to look to ourselves. Perhaps if the universities were not competing for federal grant money on this research, they could work together and achieve even quicker results. We certainly need them.

You may wish to note for future reference that Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization working to stop gun violence, has been conducting research for some time. The current status of its work is available at everytownresearch.org. I am certain it would be thrilled to have the University of Minnesota join its efforts.

Janet Berry, Minneapolis

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Thank you for the editorial urging Congress to lift the federal ban on gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Minnesota’s state firearms law also prohibits the collection of data necessary for gun-violence research, which severely limits the Minnesota Department of Health’s ability to provide essential data related to gun violence, accidents, suicides, injuries, crimes and deaths. We will be introducing a bill that would modify state law to allow for the collection of de-identified data on gun ownership for the sole purpose of public health research or epidemiologic investigation. We will work with voices in the gun violence reduction, public health, domestic violence, and law enforcement spheres in calling for all legislators to vote in favor of this bill, to enable vital public health research into gun violence and its prevention in our state. Knowledge is power. We should never be so afraid of the truth that we look the other way while lives are being lost.

State Rep. Erin Murphy and state Sen. Matt Klein

The writers, of St. Paul and Mendota Heights, respectively, are members of the DFL Party. Murphy is a registered nurse and a candidate for governor. Klein is a physician.

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In response to the Feb. 15 letter writer who proposes locking down every school and protecting them with “trained, armed individuals”:

So the solution to school safety is to create prisons for children and teachers and to let guns have freedom? Let me say this again: Guns have freedom, people don’t? We are going to have to vote our way out of this absurdity.

Penny Van Kampen, Edina

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So the message that we adults are sending to our children is that it is more important to protect lives at the courthouse, jails, airport, police department and military installation than it is at school?

As a U.S. Air Force Security Police veteran who once controlled entry to nuclear-weapon facilities, it is mind-boggling to me that our nation has not installed more hardened entry control measures that actually work.

Unless our citizens and criminals turn in the millions of guns in the streets, the gun-restriction plan is not going to work. The mental health diagnosis strategy has failed miserably as well.

Meanwhile, the one measure that actually works — tighter entry security — is buried by political activists who are more worried about scoring political points than installing proven measures that keep our kids alive.

Corby Pelto, Plymouth

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Thanks to Sarah Rubin, the high school student from Eden Prairie, for her letter in Thursday’s Star Tribune. I don’t know this young woman, but she shows more maturity and compassion, common sense and intelligence than that exhibited by many of our lawmakers in Washington. After another horrific school shooting, House Speaker Paul Ryan said we need more information, we need to take a breath. The students and adults killed brutally this week — and in weeks past — won’t be taking any more breaths.

Ms. Rubin speaks of responsibility, hard choices and change. I challenge our lawmakers to work not for political gain, but for the common good; not to talk, but to take action. That requires humility and change. While I’m not a fan of guns, I am not opposed to guns for sport. But semiautomatic rifles are used over and over to kill people. It seems logical that removing such weapons from the marketplace would be a good change — a change for the good.

The president alluded to keeping guns from those with mental illness. This would be a complicated and amorphous task. Removing certain guns is concrete and direct. It, too, is complicated, but is a more attainable task than identifying people with mental illness who are likely to harm others.

I challenge our lawmakers to stand up and work together for real change — regardless of how much NRA money it costs them. As Rubin suggests, money, guns and power are never worth more than a child’s life.

Katherine Michael, Edina

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Dear Sarah Rubin, high school student:

Thank you for sharing your belief that change is possible. I believe that you and your peers are the answer to this most horrible predicament we face today. You are the future. You are right to say that you cannot vote, but I challenge your assumption that you have no power.

You have the moral authority to demand that your schools, your faith communities, and your music venues and theaters are safe and protected. You are “on the ground” to identify young people who are struggling or shunned or bullied and who could benefit from a helping hand or a connection to a caring adult. You can host dialogues with your elected officials in your schools to demand that scientific research on gun violence in America be reinstated (by overturning the Dickey Amendment) and to hold them accountable for progress made on universal background checks, banning of assault weapons, “bumps” and armor-piercing bullets, etc. And you can study the effectiveness of other movements for social change and use the most-effective measures.

What if students, teachers, administrators and parents across the country organized a universal school boycott, “teach-in” or a march on Washington to demand that the culture of guns and violence be transformed? I know that I would stand and work with you. Otherwise, we will all be participating in this ritual cycle of grief, outrage and hopelessness next month when the next Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech or Parkland shooting takes place.

Catherine Jordan, Minneapolis

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I would like to see elementary, high school and college students have a “Million Student March” on Washington demanding that Congress act now and not wait until the next carnage. If our politicians continue to do nothing, maybe our young can make a difference. They are the victims. They are the dying.

Pamela Johnson, Eagan

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How about attending “Protect Day on the Hill” at the Minnesota State Capitol — Thursday, Feb. 22, at 2 p.m. (protectmn.org).

Jean Heberle, Minneapolis

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I think it is time for the medical community to step up and call the continuing deaths from firearms what it is — a public health emergency. The desire to protect our children and young adults has often been at the heart of our biggest public health advances. It is mind-numbing that as a society we have not yet taken this issue out of the realm of politics. We must move forward to pass lifesaving legislation, particularly to protect our youngest and most vulnerable.

Dr. Philip Lowry, Minneapolis

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A Feb. 16 letter writer suggests that joining the NRA for $35 gives a person a voice regarding firearms. How I wish that were true! Unfortunately, while I am told the majority of NRA members support sensible gun controls, the leadership doesn’t. It seems, therefore, that your $35 membership would simply give them more political leverage.

That brings to mind the U.S. Supreme Court’s error (intentional?) giving corporations the right to make political contributions, without requiring them to obtain, and abide by, the views of the actual owners (stockholders) whose funds are being contributed. That would be a true democracy, and I believe, reduce the current insanity on many fronts.

Darrell Egertson, Bloomington

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Another school shooting and one more time many of us bemoan the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA). This time is different for me. This time I have contributed money to an anti-gun-violence organization (there are many good ones). It is time for people to act!

Patrick Foley, Northfield

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Maybe it’s time to take a page out of the prolife playbook and start having protests at NRA headquarters. Remind the people there every day of the carnage that the policies they push bring on the people of this country. It’s clear the leaders in the NRA don’t care about these shooting deaths and won’t unless they are reminded every day.

Mark LeChevalier, Minneapolis