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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Duluth kids won’t read uncomfortable books

To protect students from racial slurs that might make them feel uncomfortable and “marginalized,” Duluth public schools will drop To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn from required reading lists, reports Lisa Kaczke in the Duluth News Tribune.

Brock Peters played Tom Robinson in the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

“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,” said Michael Cary, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.

“No specific complaint” triggered the decision, writes Kaczke. However, Superintendent Bill Gronseth said the district was “hearing from students that the book’s use of a racial slur created an uncomfortable atmosphere for them in the classroom.” So, did they complain or not?

The local NAACP has been complaining. Stephan Witherspoon, president of the local chapter, said the novels use “hurtful language that has oppressed the people for over 200 years.”

Black students are a small minority in Duluth schools: 6.3 percent of enrollment. It’s probably uncomfortable to be one of two black kids when the class starts discussing a book that deals with slavery, racism and injustice.

What books deal with these issues without causing discomfort?

I wonder if Duluth teachers assign books in which girls and women are abused, such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved or Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Do they read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl or Elie Weisel’s Night?

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie’s semi-autographical book about a Spokane Indian boy who’s bullied at an all-white high school, is challenged frequently for, among other things, cultural insensitivity and offensive language.

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