Duluth schools “respond” to my complaint about censorship

March 2, 2018 • 9:00 am

On February 8 I reported that the Duluth (Minnesota) public schools had removed two classic books from their syllabus: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. The reason, as you can guess, is that they contained the “n-word”: as the Minnesota Star-Tribune reported:

“The feedback that we’ve received is that it makes many students feel uncomfortable,” said Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction for the district. “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.”

Cary said the decision, made as a group by district leaders and leaders in Duluth’s secondary schools, came after years of concerns shared by parents, students and community groups. The change was announced to district staff members late last week.

Stephan Witherspoon, president of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP, called the move “long overdue.”

The literature has “oppressive language for our kids” Witherspoon said, and school should be an environment where children of color are learning equally. There are other novels with similar messages that can be taught, he said.

“Our kids don’t need to read the ‘N’ word in school,” Witherspoon said. “They deal with that every day out in the community and in their life. Racism still exists in a very big way.”

To be sure, the schools were still leaving the books in the school library, just in case kids want to trigger themselves. And, as I wrote at the time, there are ways to teach this sensitively, and of course African-American kids are going to hear that word many times growing up, and will know what it means. The two books, in fact, are not oppressive but anti-racist, but use the language common among racist Southerners at the time.

Note that one of the objections to the books being used was from the NAACP, an abbreviation for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Those last two words, of course, are also taboo, as they are considered more offensive than “blacks” or “African Americans,” though not as offensive as “nigger” (I’m not using the “n-word” euphemism here, as everybody reads the offensive word into it.) Nobody calls African Americans “colored people” these days. If the NAACP is serious, it should change its name. The reason they don’t, of course, is that “colored people” was respectable at the time among blacks, and they keep it as a sign of history. But the historical context is also the same justification for teaching the “triggering” word in the two banned books.

This kind of school censorship repels me, and so I wrote to Dr. Michael Cary, Director of Curriculum and Instruction of the Duluth Public Schools. I also emailed the same letter, individually, to all seven members of the Duluth School Board. Here it is:

Dear Mr./Ms. X,

I’d like to register a protest against your school board’s removal of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from the curriculum on the grounds that they contain a single word that is considered offensive. This is censorship, pure and simple, and censorship based on the principle that a book that contains any material that people find offensive should be removed from the curriculum. But nearly any important book will offend someone, and, as you know, both of these books are not only important, but anti-racist.

To say that there are other books that convey the same message implies that ideology is what’s important for the students, and that books with the same ideology are interchangeable. But that’s not true. Both of these books have substantial literary merit: Hemingway deemed “Huck Finn” as the fountainhead of American literature, and “Mockingbird” won a Pulitzer Prize. There are no other books like them.

I’m sure your students are mature enough, and your teachers capable enough, to teach these important books with care and sensitivity. To deprive students of reading them as part of the curriculum is to diminish their cultural education.

Yours sincerely,
Jerry Coyne
Professor Emeritus
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago

Now usually I get some kind of response or non-response defending the censorship, but up to now I’ve heard exactly nothing. Apparently the books are still out of the curriculum. This morning, however, I got a snotty email from one member of the school board, who had the temerity to address me by my first name and then to ask me three questions.  I’ll leave out the name as it’s not important:

Hi Jerry,

A few questions:

1) Where did you get your information from?

2) Why do you think the decision was made? Who made it? What’s the story behind it?

3) What do you know about our community, our teachers, and our students?

That’s the complete content of the email.

My information, of course, came from the newspapers, and was widely available. As the paper reported, the decision was made by “a group by district leaders and leaders in Duluth’s secondary schools”. I presume that includes members of the Duluth School Board, but even if it doesn’t, they didn’t have to bow to the pressure.  Finally, the last question really is dumb: the writer assumes that I have to know all about the community, teachers, and students to justify my criticism of the censorship. But every word I wrote goes for every school that would teach but then censor the books.  The implication, of course, is that the community was riled up, contained people who saw the word “nigger” as triggering, offensive, oppressive, and upsetting, even when contained in classic works of literature, and that Duluth teachers are unable to teach those two books in a way that could defuse any offense—or even use it as a teaching moment. Are they really that incompetent?

Regardless, this is not only a non-response (just a lot of snarky questions), but speaks poorly of the Duluth School Board.  So, let them censor what the kids will see, for, after all, the School Boards knows hate speech when they see it. I hope that the Streisand Effect operates here, and the children seek out and read those two books.

Meanwhile, the Duluth School Board can take a hike.

UPDATE: There’s a comment by reader “Worm” below that suggests he/she is the school board member who wrote me the snarky response. I can’t verify that, because it’s anonymous, but if it’s true, this person should not be on a school board!

109 thoughts on “Duluth schools “respond” to my complaint about censorship

  1. I think that last question is very telling. What do you know about our community, out teachers, our, our, our. Just the mentality that keeps American schools years behind many others. We at the local level with our small minds know far better than anyone on the planet how we will educate ours.

    1. It is the “lived experience” trope in its bad form, where the “universal” gets ignored or dismissed. (It has a good one – it can be motivating, expose one to interesting problems, etc.)

    2. Good point. It’s the anti-intellectualism that’s becoming so pervasive in many areas. Let’s elect someone who knows nothing about government to blow the system up. That’ll work. Yeah, right.

      We saw the same thing with the Brexit vote in Britain. Politicians openly denigrated experts on the subject.

      This idea that the opinion of people who have spent their career researching and studying certain things is worth less than anyone off the street is a growing phenomenon and very worrying.

      1. If we take this to the next level, and we have, you come upon the likes of Jared Kushner and wife sitting in the white house doing who knew what until, now we know. He and she were running a loan company in reverse where they could take loans from other firms to the tune of more than 1/2 a billion dollars. It is called Nepotism 101. And from the look of it, they may be providing lessons to that lovely couple over in Israel, the Netanyahu’s.

        1. Yep. Given the fact that Trump insisted that wouldn’t happen, we should have known it would.

  2. The answers to their 3 questions can be bundled:

    There is nothing new in your words or your actions. You are part of a long, cartoonishly shallow tradition. Your rhetoric was already common and sophomoric when I was a sophomore, and that was a long time ago.

  3. “it makes many students feel uncomfortable”

    What is “ it”? We may never know.

    As for the “snotty” letter, that appears to be written using a formula. I am working out what the formula is, but the letter does not suggest there is much depth to it, i.e. if the author ever read the two books (I haven’t!), or has published anything….

    In a word, I’d call the letter “defensive”.

    Im glad someone has the guts to write like PCC(E) – many can’t, in fear of being outcast. Don’t ask how I know this.

  4. Never make the mistake of thinking that school boards are filled with people interested in education. In my experience they are filled with busy-bodies who have too much time on their hands. The Duluth response indicates the same sort of “community values” view of public business that was championed in Dayton during Scopes.

  5. 1) Where did you get your information from?

    Not from you, since you’re neither contesting any of it nor adding any knowledge.

    2) Why do you think the decision was made? Who made it? What’s the story behind it?

    Time for you to tell us. Can you enlighten us, or just deflect? Looks like the latter.

    3) What do you know about our community, our teachers, and our students?

    Judging by your lack of response, probably as much as you do.

    Glen Davidson

  6. I wrote a letter similar to yours to the same people, Jerry, and received thoughtful (if perhaps wrote) replies from William Gronseth, the Superintendent of the Deluth public schools, and from Joshua Gorham, who (I believe) is a member of the school board, both of which address me by the honorific “Mr.”

    I have forwarded copies to you by email.

      1. You crass homophonophobe. They are the trannies of the lexical domain. Honor them in all their trans-relational glory or you will be cursed with anomic aphasia.

        1. 🙂

          I remember Kurt Vonnegut calling semicolons the hermaphrodites of the punctuation domain.

          I suppose that’d be considered un-PC nowadays.

  7. Euphemism treadmills… what a curious cultural phenomenon.

    In the 1800s blacks were often called “negroes” (“negro” is “black” in Spanish/Portuguese) and “nigger” is a perversion of that word.

    Then came “colored people” or simply “coloreds”, which is now considered offensive.

    Then “African American” (at least for American blacks), though apparently you can’t use this if you’re a white African American. This one is still ok.

    Nowadays “People of Color” seems to be in favor, and includes all non-whites. How long until this becomes offensive?!

    1. Jake, you missed out “black”, between “colored” and “African American”. That still seems to be useable.

      What puzzles me is why, since the term “colored” is a no-no (I think understandably, since it implies white skin is a norm from which other coloration is a deviation), the term “people of color” is now considered acceptable.

  8. Where did you get the information?
    —-if it is true, does it matter?

    Who made the decision?
    —-some ass-covering committee.

    What do you know about our community?
    —-it’s cold.

  9. My first thought on reading their letter is that they put your email address on a list and some PR firm they hired sent out a questionnaire to everyone on the list to “gauge community response”. This is supported also by their use of your first name.

  10. Jerry’s suggested I share the letters I received in response to mine to the Deluth school board. Here they are:

    Dear Mr. Kukec,

    Thank you for sharing your comments and concerns regarding the replacement of To Kill a Mockingbird and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the required reading list. These books are considered American Classics that many people have enjoyed reading, and will still be available in our schools. They will no longer be required reading as part of our English curriculum. English teachers will work with curriculum staff to identify replacements for those books before the 2018-19 school year. The goal is to have the new requirements identified before the close of the 2017-18 school year.

    The process for identifying new literary opportunities that support learning and respect for all our students didn’t happen overnight. Over the past few years, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, along with District leadership, school principals and the Office of Education Equity have been working with staff, students, families, and the community to identify ways in which our curriculum can be updated and enhanced to support learning for all our students. ISD709 recognizes the need for this advancement as we endeavor to support education excellence that is representative and responsive to our student population. The Office of Education Equity identified multiple opportunities to reach our collective goals, including making changes to our high school literary curriculum.

    Across the Nation, the State, and right here in Duluth, there are differences in achievement levels between groups of students. We are working to reduce these differences which requires adaptation and change. Ensuring that our curriculum is culturally responsive is a vital facet of this work. When students, families, and community organizations routinely inform us that these books cause our students to feel marginalized or humiliated, we need to be responsive and take actions that make our District stronger, even when those changes come with some frustration.

    Many people have shared their thoughts with me, the School Board, and District staff. Some have been appreciative, others disappointed. Many can understand how the racial slurs and content of these books can affect people differently based on their own perspective and life experiences. Racism is a divisive social construct designed to strip all of us of our humanity by providing power, privilege and access to some while simultaneously limiting it for others. We have a responsibility to work to change this dynamic by using a more responsive curriculum that acknowledges multiple perspectives on important societal issues, and we are confident this is a positive change to support the success of all students.

    We recognize that some are frustrated by this decision, but we are confident in our staff’s ability to choose replacements for these novels that will be culturally responsive and provide high-quality learning opportunities for all of our students. Staff will drive the identification of alternative novels that represent the goals of our School District and support the encouragement of literary engagement, historical context, and meaningful analysis for students and staff alike.

    Bill Gronseth

    William Gronseth
    Superintendent of Schools
    Duluth Public Schools

    And from Mr. Gorham:

    Hello Mr. Kukec,

    Thank you for sharing your concerns and sharing your point of view.

    I’d like to share that my personal experience with both books has been similar to yours. The root of this decision is based on feedback from our communities of color that the use of these two novels as required reading makes many of our students feel racially marginalized and humiliated due to the use of racial slurs. While that was not my personal experience when reading the books, it is the experience of some of our students.

    I have been advised through the District’s Office of Education Equity that there are alternatives that effectively address these topics without causing students to feel marginalized. I sit on the School District’s Education Equity Committee, and will be engaged in conversations about this topic moving forward. It is my first month is this role, so there will be much more to learn, but I do share that I trust and have confidence in our staff and leadership in this decision. The idea is not to censor the topics, but to be responsive to student needs and concerns. If I felt this topic were being swept under the rug, I’d have concern, but I do not believe that is the case.

    I appreciate your concern on this topic, and welcome further dialogue or questions if need be.

        1. I apologize- and I’m very distracted right now but I’ll try a reply :

          I didn’t write letters to anyone –

          I’m glad PCC(E) did and Ken and if anyone else did too but didn’t say so … in case I missed it .. I’m confusing myself now…

          So … all good…?

        2. I tried to take my tone from yours (to curb my usual de haut en bas snarkiness). Hell, if I’d’ve borrowed any more brazenly, you’d’ve had me up on plagiarism charges. 🙂

        3. I’m wicked confused now because for one thing I wasn’t saying anything about tone, writing style, or such things – I was thankful for … Ken, if I’m not mistaken- following the recommendation of PCC(E) by posting the – I think – letters here, for us all to read, I thought it was helpful to understand things…

          So in summary, I am thanking everyone sincerely.

    1. “I have been advised through the District’s Office of Education Equity that there are alternatives that effectively address these topics without causing students to feel marginalized.”

      Like The Very Hungry Caterpillar?

      1. Actually, be careful with that – if I recall, that author was *also* often on a list of bans/attempted bans.

        I was at a local CFI event for Banned Books Day once, and it was on the list.

        We played a game of seeing who had read various “controversial” books. Sort of the book-geek equivalent of the purity test. 😉

        1. Wait, seriously? I looked him up, and the only thing I found was some banning of one Carle book for depiction of a naked man and woman. Oy vey!

          1. Unfortunately “guilt by association” is a thing here. Write one book that people have a problem with, all of them go. For example, people started looking at Roald Dahl because of _The Witches_ (which I have never read) and then “discovered” they should do it all. (Later one heard that the _Charlie_ stories are racist [which is mild but true] and that they inculcate disrespect to authority, which is not only false but necessarily a bad thing.)

          2. We read The Witches a few years ago to my son who was around 7 at the time. It certainly was a bit dark, but I don’t recall anything that one would think should raise questions about whether it should be censored, even in today’s fragile climate.

    2. I’ll add only this – Mr Gronseth is dissembling a bit when he implies it’s all good because the books they’re censoring from their curricula will still be available in the library. As a school administrator he must be well aware that few if any of his students will willingly read those books. The whole point of including such works in the curricula is because of their pedagogical value*. If they eliminate texts on biology that exclude the theory of evolution and say it’s ok because we have a copy of “Speciation” in our library, would that be ok?

      *I will say though, that he DOES have a point that there are very likely other works of literature that could be used in their place as part of the curricula. The universe of literature is like the internet – vast and mostly drek but because it IS so vast, there are a large number of worthwhile books.

      1. They could substitute “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin. However, surely, the SJWs would call that the height of cultural appropriation.

        1. When SJW keyboard dilettantes make the kinda commitment Griffin did, they can bitch’n’moan about it. I don’t recall Ralph Ellison or Richard Wright or James Baldwin or any of the other great black writers of that era complaining that Griffin was intruding on their turf.

      2. I recall readin’ Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer on my own as a kid, no schoolin’ required. Of course, I didn’t have Facebook and Snapchat and the Twitterverse competing for my attention. But that ain’t no matter; Mister Twain, he told the truth, mainly.

  11. Regardless, this is not only a non-response (just a lot of snarky questions), but speaks poorly of the Duluth School Board.

    Are there any qualifications required before one can be a member of a “school board”. Other than having possessed one half of a functioning set of sex organs, at some point in the last dozen or so years? Or not even that?


    Where did you get the information?

    —-if it is true, does it matter?

    There’s a strong hint to me that when the email writer finds out who leaked the info to these interfering, he’ll be off to Dicks ^H^H^H^H Walmart ^H^H^H^H^H somewhere to buy an answer to the problem of these pesky leaks. Which reflects back on my question about what qualifications are needed to be considered for a place on a “school board”.

  12. “What do you know about our community, our teachers, and our students?”

    This is pretty much exactly the reaction that FFRF gets when they challenge religious intrusion into government in communities across the country.

    Damn feriners trying to impose their values on us.

  13. We can be certain that both “Huckleberry Finn” and “Mockingbird” will be replaced by novels by Alice Walker and/or Toni Morrison, chosen basically at random.

    Come to think of it, any reference to pre-civil war slavery or to the civil war might make white students from Southern states feel “marginalized”, so I trust such references will be eliminated from the school curriculum. German-American and Japanese-American students might feel marginalized by any mention of WWII, so that goes out too.
    Next, I wonder when mention of Evolution in Biology classes will be eliminated, because of the way it makes religious students feel marginalized.

  14. The reasoning for this removal is flawed, but
    here is another reason which seems a bit better: Sometimes classical literature, however important, just has to step aside to expose kids to newer literature that feels more relatable and current. To Kill A Mockingbird came out in 1960 and at the time it must have been incredibly raw and current and its adaptation into education was a great choice many decades ago for that very reason. But how long should a book, however, great, be a part of the reading curriculum?

    An aim is to get kids interested in reading, especially now in the age of the internet when so little reading happens. Also very important is to expose kids to subjects that are uncomfortable, and to use that as a basis for talking about it. So if there are great and recent books out there about drugs, violence, racism, immigration, LGBTQ, etc., I would seriously consider those as a replacement to the books that have been set aside.

    I doubt that the ‘deciders’ in Duluth have done that. And if not they have missed a great opportunity for educating their students.

    1. If that were the reasoning, then the justification wouldn’t be that some people are uncomfortable with Huck and Mockingbird.

    2. “An aim is to get kids interested in reading”

      When they’re 0-8, yes absolutely.

      this is high school, right?

      and I think a high school class is about understanding the origins of literature – it’s not a Book Of The Month club, though, that’d be great.

      1. Once again, the thinly-veiled soft bigotry of low expectations. The implication is that Duluth’s black students aren’t interested in reading, and were they encouraged only to encounter the word “nigger” typed on some page, they would abandon reading and, I dunno, go back to listening to hip hop, where it’s spelled with “-ah” at the end.

      2. We would like to think that HS kids are going further into literature, but that is less true today with all the other distractions such as the internet. This problem crosses all social and racial divides.

  15. Above all, we must ensure that nobody ever feels uncomfortable. That is the mandate of every society; the ultimate goal of all civilization. We will have to sacrifice many things — art, speech, sex, joy — but it will be worth it when we build that world completely obsequious to all who take offence. That anodyne world. That padded and tarted up world. That pointless world.

    1. Are you the one who uses “anodyne” here occasionally?

      If so, I learned it from you and its a great word!

      1. Hmmm, I don’t know. I used it today, but I don’t recall whether I’ve used it previously. But learning a good new word is always fun, and I’m glad you did 🙂

      2. I think you learned that word from Ken Kukec…I think I remember your comment some time back on a Hili dialogue.

        1. I have all the best words. Hell, once in a blue moon I even stumble into using one of ’em correctly. 🙂

      1. You know, I’m honestly not very well-read. Most of what I read is technical or historical. I have a learning disability that makes reading veeerrrry slow for me, so I’ve never read much fiction beyond sci-fi and some fantasy.

        I guess my style just happens to mimic the divine by chance, like most things I do 🙂

  16. I find it astonishing that,

    1. instead of getting a version where, unfortunately, they’d have replaced “nigger” with, say, “African” or something- similar to how audio versions of Just So Stories go. It really is a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    2. There isn’t an honors level where the kids who can take on intellectually substantial problems, and therefore can discuss these important pieces of American – United Statesian, if you like – literature.

    1. Oops (1) means instead if that, they “put the books in the library.”

      I propose an acronym: PTBITL.

  17. Uh-oh – dare I suggest that “putting books in the library” is the literary equivalent of vaccine refusal in Fantasyland?

  18. What do you know about our community, our teachers, and our students?

    For one thing, Duluth is 90% white and 2% black.

    As someone who grew up in a town that was 10% black (plus a good number of Puerto Ricans & others), had busing, and who was regularly called a ‘nigger lover’ for having black friends, I scoff at the self-righteous posturing and virtue signaling of these racially-pure enclaves.

    1. Wow! That demographic revelation is stunning. Why, now it’s a horse of a different color, and all the more reason “Black Like Me” would be apropos. And how about some slave narratives, too.

      People of all ages should read slave narratives (the raw, unedited ones collected by the WPA) and the same for Holocaust memoirs (the ones published by Shocken Books).

      1. It’s not very stunning if you’ve been to Minnesota. The population is almost as white as the snow 🙂

          1. I thought for the longest time that McGeorge Bundy spelled his first name wrong, too. 🙂

          2. Yes, that’s true. It’s quite fascinating, really. I wonder what made the first groupings of minority immigrants move there. It’s so unlike many of their home countries. Was it a job market? The culture? It’s an interesting question, and I wonder if anyone knows the answer.

  19. omg

    “You don’t know about our community” is the “sophisticated theology” of censorship, I guess.

  20. To his most high exalted personage Professor Emeritus J**** C****,

    I am deeply sorry for having the temerity not to address you with the honorifics that are your clear right. I have tried in my feeble way to rectify this misdeed by not even presuming to type out the letters of your illustrious name in this response.

    A million pardons for daring to ask you questions. I understand now that any attempt to inquire about your just instructions to us is mere snottiness and snark. My shame knows no depths.

    I beg your forgiveness for my arrogant presumptuousness even as I recognize that you should not deign to give it to one as unworthy as myself. I am but a lowly school board member, not fit even to address you by name, much less to question your pronouncements.

    In disgrace,
    A lowly school board member

    1. Ah, ladies and gentlemen, meet the Duluth School Board member who wrote me that email. Here we see the caliber of person running the Duluth schools. This person doesn’t even have the courage to use his/her own name.

    2. The school kids in Duluth are not being served by this nonsense, Worm. Your response here and your initial response to Dr Coyne is beneath contempt.

      You chose an appropriate ‘nym, though.

    3. Yo, “Worm,” tube worms don’t have guts. You, sir or madam, xi or zi or sherm or shim or whatever, are indeed a gutless tube worm, too gutless even to give your name.

      You folks aren’t preparing your teachers to teach things in context; you’re just turning out another generation of ignorant, hypersensitive snowflakes. And are you trying to protect blacks/ethnic minorities or whites who (as another commenter here has observed) make up around 90% of the population. Paternalism toward slaves was a virtue on the plantation. Your school board has a plantation mentality.

    4. Nor does the person have the courage to justify their decision or, if necessary, correct whatever errors were in the newspapers.

      Just immature snark and no substance. What leadership!

    5. This “pardon me Your Highness” snark doesn’t even make sense. Jerry didn’t complain that the response wasn’t respectful, just that it was just lame.

      That you, Worm, chose to make fun of his education/status (he’s an elite!) shows you to be a person who doesn’t respect education, which is ironic, and very unfortunate for the students of Duluth.

    6. As a former local board member and chair in virginia, I find it hard to believe that worm is a school board member…not impossible…just improbable. All states provide significant training for local board members regarding their roles and responsibilities, which include positive, productive, and meaningful communication with the public. If worm is a board member, i hope that he will avail himself of some additional training or maybe even have a discussion with his chair or the superintendent regarding being a positive representative for the school district.

    7. How sad. Someone who’s supposed to be guiding the education of minors denigrating someone’s significant education and achievement. I can only imagine how condescending and resentful you are toward kids from your system who also achieve great things.

      You are the exact opposite of the type of person your district actually needs. Kids suffer under people like you, their education hampered by the sad egos of superiors so easily bruised by the slightest criticism. Many of your district’s kids have more class and maturity than at least one of their school board members, and that’s a true shame.

    8. Perhaps the real fear is that when reading these books the students will encounter characters with true integrity and courage and by comparison those people providing their education will fall hopelessly short. Atticus Finch you certainly are not.

    9. Hi Worm,

      OK, you got Prof. Coyne’s attention, and now you also have an audience among his readership. Now that you’ve got the snark and sarcasm out of your system (at least I hope you have), do you have anything of substance to say? He offered principled objections to the decision to remove two books from the curriculum. Do you have a response to those criticisms, or are you hoping that the force of your wit alone will humiliate him into silence?

      Although you are anonymous to those of us reading this website (frankly, that’s fine with me; I don’t need to know who you are, just what you think) and you might be tempted to respond to the general readership with a middle finger salute, you might want to think about the fact that your fellow school board members are also likely to see this post and your contribution to it, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they were able to figure out who you are. Is the way you have appeared here thus far really the way you want to present yourself to your peers?

      You gave sarcasm a shot, and it doesn’t appear to be your forte, so why not try engaging in straightforward dialogue? You may or may not change minds, but at the very least it will give you a chance to sharpen and refine your arguments. Maybe some of us will learn something from you and maybe you’ll learn something from the exchange. If nothing else, you’ll be offering yourself as a better role model for Duluth’s students, and will bring more respect to the school board than you’ve done here so far.

      Why not share some actual thoughts? It can’t hurt!

      1. Well put.

        a few civil arguments might bring things up a bit.

        But these discussions aren’t going to last long – we dont have much time – 30 days, I think, Worm. And my attention is already drifting to other, more productive things.

    10. Ah, yes, Worm, and your rejoinder to the well-meaning Professor, a model of temperance and decorum.

    11. The equivocation between a protest and “just instructions” makes the intended humor fall flat. Indeed, it comes over as precisely snark.

    12. I do not believe for a millisecond that you are a school board member. I think that you are just someone who disagrees with other opinions of Prof. Coyne and therefore has decided to troll this thread.

  21. If the notion that some *classic* books become outdated or out-of-touch is true, what other books fit that category, and have been axed from classroom discussion? And for which reasons? And when did they get there?

    1. The classics like Huckelberry Finn and pretty much all of Mark Twain’s writings never become outdated or out of touch. Pecksniffs are the ones who are perennially out of touch while trying to stem the tide of human progress. Policing the use of words in general and even more so based on who is saying them without regard to the intent behind the words is no different than religious nut-jobs going bananas over words like “God”, “Damn”, “Fuck” or any of the countless words that once had innocent connotations and enjoyed common usage. Offense is in the dogma-addled mind of the hearer. Whether a given speech or writing is, actually offensive is entirely determined by the intent of the speaker or writer.

  22. Like a pinewood nematode (worm) nibbling at the pine, noxious cultural inculcation will eventually fell the forest of scholarship.

    1. We are also assuming that “Worm” is the same person who wrote:

      Hi Jerry,

      A few questions:

      1) Where did you get your information from?

      2) Why do you think the decision was made? Who made it? What’s the story behind it?

      3) What do you know about our community, our teachers, and our students?

      The construction and language of the two messages seem incompatible. It may be possible that a second party decided to respond for “no name”.

      1. My assumption was that Jerry, having access to the email addresses associated with both messages, was telling us they were the same person.

    2. I assumed the board member was an adult when I read the original post, but the response from “Worm” definitely seems like the work of a juvenile.

      If “Worm” is not the school board member, hopefully that member will notify PCC of the impersonation.

  23. Intent matters more than the meaning of a word, and more than who is saying it. When Huck Finn refers to his friend as “Nigger Joe” or whatever, he is clearly, in the context of that story, not only not racist, but willing to put his own life and freedom on the line in defiance of his racist society’s determination to harm his friend. Offense culture is doing harm to the struggles against racism and for social justice by validating the accusations of “libtard” that the actual racists of the alt-right hurl at everyone who is fighting for social justice not just the loony offense culture befuddled ctrl-left.

    1. Adventures of Tom Sawyer


      … not sure if Huck Finn is there,

      But if it is true that, as sad as it would be, there exist bowdlerized versions of HF and TKAM – and I think it is – and the school powers aren’t simply – simply! – adopting those versions- the conclusion becomes much stronger that what we are witnessing in Duluth is – there’s no easier way to put it – a holy purification, draped in polite, sincere, nearly legal prose excuse making – “keeping the books in the library”… as if hiding them from uncomfortable students will make them more comfortable…,

    2. Remember when the left rightly mocked John Ashcroft for covering up the Spirit of Justice statue at the DOJ? Look at them now.

  24. It’s ironic that Mark Twain, after writing “Huckleberry Finn”, commented: “First God created an idiot. That was for practice. Then He created a School Board.”

  25. The Duluth School Board’s decision is unfortunate. Yes, Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird deal with some uncomfortable subject matter, but they do so in a way to help enlighten people and to teach empathy towards those who are oppressed. To censor these books because of some of their langue and subject matter is insulting. It’s basically saying the students are too stupid to comprehend it or to think critically about it.

    So, let’s say the school board does replace these books being read in the classroom with some other books, what next? Are to assume that offense will magically disappear, that whatever new books they choose won’t meet with offended parents and students? Such thinking is naive. No matter what someone writes, someone is always going to be offended. I wonder what books they will remove from the reading curriculum next.

  26. I am a Duluth English teacher who stumbled across this blog. If you want to help keep Mockingbird and Huck Finn in our curriculum, don’t write our administration or our school board. Instead write to our local paper, the Duluth News Tribune. http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/users/letters-editor/contact

    On Wednesday 3-21-18 Dr. Cary, our curriculum director, who unilaterally made this decision, told us after we pressed him for numbers that he has had 5-6 anonymous parent complaints. That’s it. And they were anonymous. No teacher was told of the complaints.

    Dr. Cary is leaving our district next school year to become superintendent of a nearby city, Cloquet, MN. No doubt he will ban their books, too.

  27. I found a book, actually numerous books, in public schools, with not only the word “nigger”, but other words no civil person should be using in civil conversation – this is absolutely true, in case you detect my rhetoric here.

    The title of the book : Dictionary of the English Language.

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