I'm a proud graduate of Duluth East High School. I completed almost all of my education in Duluth at the public schools. I read the Duluth school district has made the decision to stop requiring "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" as part of the high school English curriculum.
But removing these books from the required curriculum does the exact opposite.
The use of the n-word and the themes of rape and racism in these books are there for a reason. They are intended to make those of us who have the advantage of a lighter skin color, and therefore inexperience with these things, uncomfortable. We owe it to future generations to be made uncomfortable by these topics so we can create change and a better environment.
When I read these books in high school, they had a drastic impact on my view of the world. As an upper-class white female, I never had to experience being degraded based on my skin color or accused of a crime, again based solely on my skin color.
Reading a story as powerful as "To Kill A Mockingbird" changed that and gave me one more tool toward a more comprehensive and inclusive view of the world.
Our teachers never forced us to say the n-word while reading these books. They always gave us the option of substituting the word "negro" instead when we were reading out loud. This was one way in which teachers were accommodating to those of us uncomfortable with the n-word, as we all should be. The use of this word is, however, absolutely crucial to the impact this book has on its readers.
We need to be able to fully absorb the awfulness that the generations before us endured to give us a better future, and we need to continue to learn accurately about the past so we can continue to better our world for our children.
Sanitizing history will not do this. Sanitizing history does the exact opposite. We would never imagine it OK to cut books from our history curriculum on the Holocaust simply to be considerate of our Jewish classmates facing an uncomfortable topic. Why should we deny our African-American classmates the right to force us, as the privileged group, to truly see what the past looked like for their grandfathers and grandmothers when that is not something we would ever consider denying our Jewish classmates?
These two books are a critical part of our learning. I strongly encourage the school district to reconsider this decision because it is ultimately incredibly detrimental to the students the district is attempting to teach.
Sanitizing history does nothing to prevent terrible events from reoccurring.
Learning about those events in full - and with uncomfortable accuracy - does.
Anja Leitz-Najarian of Duluth is a graduate of Duluth East High School.