Arts & Culture

Duluth School District removes two books citing racial slurs

Jacob VanHoutan, Staff Writer

“To Kill A Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” are being dropped from the school curriculum in Duluth. This has clearly caused a stir in the community based on the history of the books, but English teacher Brian Jungman believes a change is necessary. “I think it’s dated,” he said talking about “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “That book now to me reads like it was written to explain racism to primarily a white audience. My African American population doesn’t need to have racism explained to them.”
Last week, Duluth School District administrators announced they are dropping the two books from the district’s curriculum because of the racial slurs they contain. School administrators said the decision was made in an effort to be considerate of all students after concerns about the language were raised over the years. “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,” said Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction for the district.
Though they have been taken out of curriculum, the books are not banned. They will still be able to be read at the library and are not being taken out of the school. It is a decision solely focused on what is taught in the classroom.
There are those who have critiqued the move, though. Duluth East High School teacher Stu Sorenson said he and his colleagues approach the books with honest discussion, empathy and concern for all students. He points out that “To Kill a Mockingbird” isn’t about just race. “It’s also about poverty and empathy, integrity and real courage, righteousness and hypocrisy and a host of other issues that have become the fabric of the society in which we live,” he said.
Duluth School Board Member Nora Sandstad said she supports the administration’s decision, emphasizing that it is not a ban on the books. She cited the district’s achievement gap and efforts to bring in more teachers and administrators of color. Of the students in the Duluth district, 77 percent are white and 6 percent are black. The 2016 graduation rate for black students was under 50 percent, compared with about 80 percent for white students. These kinds of discussions have not yet begun here in Minneapolis, but will continue to take place across the country like they have in states like Mississippi and Virginia. Race is a difficult topic to discuss, and schools should continue to do the best they can to teach literature and history examining the topic.

This article first appeared in the Friday, February 23, 2018, Edition of The Echo.