It’s been a year since Duluth Public Schools stripped the classic novels “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from its curriculum because of their use of racial slurs. But now, a group of “angry and demoralized” English teachers is protesting the decision.
“Teachers’ goals throughout this process have been to uphold the integrity of district curriculum and serve the best interests of students according to what we observe in our classrooms. We want our students to read the best quality literature we can present to them, including multicultural literature from authors of diverse perspectives, and we want them to enjoy the reading, especially as getting students to read an entire novel has become increasingly challenging,” states a January 18 letter, which was signed by 16 teachers and addressed to Superintendent William Gronseth and the Duluth School Board.
The decision to remove the texts from the ninth and eleventh grade curricula was announced in February 2018, replacing “To Kill a Mockingbird” with “Spirit Car” by Diane Wilson as required reading for ninth graders.
According to Duluth News-Tribune, a replacement for “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” hasn’t been announced.
In their letter, the Duluth teachers take issue with the “way administrators have responded” to their complaints about the change.
“Administrators failed to communicate to complaining students that they had options, such as reading an alternative text. They also failed to explain that both books promote an anti-racist message,” the letter says.
They go on to write that the decision to remove the novels was made “without any teacher input” and came as “a shock for teachers.”
“They failed to ask teachers how they teach the novels and how students receive them,” the letter continues. “Administrators seemed either unaware or unconcerned about the potential for controversy, even after the Biloxi, Mississippi school district made national headlines when it removed ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from its curriculum in October of 2017.”
The letter reveals that teachers attempted to reach a compromise with Superintendent Gronseth, which would have involved keeping “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the ninth-grade curriculum, but removing “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from the eleventh-grade curriculum. Additionally, they agreed to require training for teachers on presenting the material, and add two new novels from “diverse voices” to the curriculum.
Gronseth, however, “failed to respond after telling teachers he would think about the compromise” and meeting with them in person for an hour.
“The impact of this decision and the process behind it is significant,” the letter concludes, calling the replacement text for “To Kill a Mockingbird” not “engaging.”
“English teachers are angry and demoralized. The district is about to spend a lot of money to implement a book that is not engaging and simply makes a lateral move from discussing the historical oppression of African Americans to that of Native Americans, while lacking an engaging storyline,” the teachers write.
“Most importantly, students will be adversely affected,” they conclude. “Instead of reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning best-loved novel in the country written by the recipient of two presidential medals, they will be required to read something that everyone present on January 10 agreed would not engage them.”
The full letter can be read below:spirit car letter (5)