The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), an alliance of 56 national non-profits, is deeply disturbed by the Duluth Public Independent School District’s decision to remove To Kill A Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn from classrooms.
While it is understandable that a novel that repeatedly uses a highly offensive racial slur would generate discomfort among some parents and students, the problems of living in a society where racial tensions persist will not be resolved by banishing literary classics from 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 people of color.
Public schools are constitutionally bound by the First Amendment to prioritize legitimate pedagogical interests above the subjective viewpoints of individual members of the community. Parents can request an alternative book if they object to an assigned text. But no parent or group of parents is qualified to make the choice of what other children should read. Those choices are made by teachers who can assess the intellectual maturity of their students and direct discussions on sensitive subjects towards educationally-enriching ends. It is regrettable that teachers were not consulted before the decision to remove these classic works was made.
We urge the Duluth District to reconsider its decision to unilaterally remove Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird and to include teachers in the review of next year’s curriculum.
The National Coalition Against Censorship and coalition partners National Council of Teachers of English, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Authors Guild and American Booksellers for Free Expression have written to the superintendent of Duluth Public Schools.
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