In Feb. of 2018, the Duluth school district eliminated the requirement of reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” in school curriculum, a measure supported by the local NAACP chapter.
“Mockingbird” and “Huck Finn” were removed from the curriculum because critics were upset with the racially charged language saying it made students feel uncomfortable. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAP) publicly opposed the removal of the book saying
“The classroom is where the history, use, and destructiveness of this language should be examined and discussed.” They also argue that teachers should create an open dialogue that encourages “students to confront the vestiges of racism and the oppression of people of color.”
Since then, the district entered a lengthy process to select a new book for the curriculum. The new book titled “Spirit Car” was published in 2006 and is a memoir about the author, a Minnesota Native, tracing her Native American history. The director of curriculum, Gail Netland expressed that this put the district in a situation where they had to choose “Native American over African-American history” but “both these things need to be taught.”
Netland also said they wanted to choose a novel to replace “Mockingbird” that was written by a woman. Community members were invited in to evaluate the three finalist novels. Audrey Devine Eller was one of those members who stated she didn’t know “why the timeline was what it was” as they weren’t asked to read the finalist novels until “November, instead of say last May.”
School Board members received a letter from 17 district teachers on Jan. 18, 2019 criticizing the new choice in literature. They believe the new novel is a “colossal waste of curriculum monies, and this forced book will continue to be a blight on our ninth grade curriculum for decades”. English teacher Stephanie Mickle spoke out and said she will “never stop believing that the decision to remove ‘Mockingbird’ was wrong, and [she] hope[s] that someday it comes back.”
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Megan Olson is a 2020 graduate of the University of Minnesota with degrees in political science and history. She works in public affairs in addition to serving on the Legislative Advisory Council for School District 196. She is also on the school board for FIT academy, a charter school in Apple Valley.