EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – A Minnesota school district is in the spotlight after removing two classic novels from its curriculum amid complaints about the books' use of racial slurs.
American classics, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark will no longer be required reading for Duluth, Minnesota students.
Both novels explore themes of racism and slavery and contain use of the N-word. Duluth school officials say they’ve received complaints about the novels for years and are responding by completely removing them from the required reading curriculum.
Some say this puts a spotlight on the idea of censorship in schools. "Material needs to be age appropriate but objecting to a classic text that is about an important history because of one word leaves our children vulnerable to propaganda from foreign sources, leaves our children dangerously vulnerable to division and it keeps us from moving forward," said Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, African American and Military History Professor at UW-Eau Claire.
Many school districts across the nation have required reading lists for students but the Eau Claire Area School District does not.
"The Eau Claire School District's English/Language Arts curriculum is based on skills. We have skills that are based on standards and our teachers and students work to make sure that the students are attaining those skills," said Stanton Nesbit, Library/Media Coordinator for Eau Claire Area schools. Nesbit, a former English teacher says critical thinking skills should be the focus, no the text students read.
Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton suggests educating students on why the N-word is derogatory instead of removing the books. “I would suggest that they use Randall Kennedy’s “The N-Word” or one of the texts we have about the history of that word and why it’s derogatory. It actually gives them the opportunity to talk about why you don’t use this word,” said Ducksworth-Lawton.
“I think it’s a complicated issue because a lot of districts are taking a look at what are considered classics from another time and recognizing that some students may see barriers to their learning based on the vocabulary in them. Other people might argue that we shouldn’t avoid those controversies just because they make us uncomfortable. We should be able to confront them and discuss them,” said Nesbit.
The Duluth School District says the novels are still available in libraries for students to read on their own time but school officials will look for other titles on the same topics to add to its curriculum.