Novels by Harper Lee and Mark Twain have been pulled from school syllabuses in Minnesota over fears their use of racial slurs will upset students.
The Duluth school district said it was removing To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its curriculum because their content may make students feel “humiliated or marginalised”.
The school district, which includes more than 20 schools, said it will keep copies of the classic novels in its libraries but will be removing the texts on its curriculum for its ninth and 11th-grade English classes in the next academic year.
Michael Cary, the district’s curriculum director, said that its schools planned to replace the novels with texts that “teach the same lessons” without using racist language.
Both To Kill a Mockingbird, a Pulitzer-prize winning novel depicting racial injustice in Alabama, and Huckleberry Finn, which deals with slavery in pre-Civil War America, include racist characters who regularly use offensive language, including the N-word.
The two novels have been listed among the most banned or challenged books from 2001 to 2009 by the American Library Association, in large part because of their uncomfortable language.
According to the association, many of the complaints about Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird came from black parents concerned about a book containing a racial slur being taught in the classroom.
However, the texts are both widely considered to be anti-racist texts, using historically accurate language and characters to highlight and address the issue.
Mr Cary told local paper the Bemidji Pioneer: “We felt that we could still teach the same standards and expectations through other novels that didn’t require students to feel humiliated or marginalised by the use of racial slurs”.
The decision had come in response to complaints about the books’ offensive language over the years, rather than a specific complaint by a student, Mr Cary said.
The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People has supported the decision, saying it was long over due.
Stephan Witherspoon, the president of the local branch, said the books were “just hurtful”, adding that they use “hurtful language that has oppressed the people for over 200 years”.
However, free speech organisations have criticised the move, with the National Coalition Against Censorship, saying it was “deeply disturbed” by the decision.
“Rather than ignore difficult speech, educators should create spaces for open dialogue that teaches students to confront the vestiges of racism and the oppression of people of colour,” a spokesperson for the organisation said.
Bernie Burnham, president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers, said the district’s English teachers were concerned that they were not consulted before the decision was made.
“I don’t think anybody is averse to change – there’s obviously lots of great literature there that we can use with our students and are there reasons to walk away from that book? Probably – but we just want to be included in conversation about it,” she said.
It is not the first time that US schools have questioned whether the two classic novels belong in the classroom.
In 2016, schools in Virginia removed both texts from their curriculum following a complaint from a parent, but they were later reinstated.
In October, schools in Mississippi removed To Kill a Mockingbird over its “uncomfortable” and racially sensitive subject matter. After an outcry, the schools announced that students with parental permission could participate in an in-depth study of the novel.
Source: The Telegraph UK