In Response: Shine a bright light to next generation, as uncomfortable as it may be to do so
The Sunday, April 15 commentary in the News Tribune from the Duluth East High School English department, headlined, "'Mockingbird' has no equal, doesn't have to go," restarted a dialogue and conversation in our family about the February decision ...
The Sunday, April 15 commentary in the News Tribune from the Duluth East High School English department, headlined, " 'Mockingbird' has no equal, doesn't have to go ," restarted a dialogue and conversation in our family about the February decision of the Duluth school district to remove from classroom instruction the books, "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
I did not know before reading the teachers' column that "To Kill a Mockingbird" author Harper Lee was the only required female author for Duluth public high school students, that President Barack Obama awarded Lee the Presidential Medal of the Arts in 2010, or that Obama quoted from "To Kill a Mockingbird" in a presidential speech.
I am an African-American or black woman (either is fine with me). I was never asked my opinion about removing these books or how my mixed children felt. Were any students asked? Even Duluth's high school English teachers were not consulted. Why wasn't there a public meeting for the community to discuss the removal of these books?
I assume someone from the NAACP got his or her feelings hurt and "felt" uncomfortable with the language in the books. Uncomfortable? Great! That is exactly what we all should feel when we read books that challenge our thinking. When we are made uncomfortable, change can happen. In order to make change, we as a society need to feel uncomfortable.
Do I like the language in these books? I do not, yet that language sparks conversations, can and has changed hearts, and can and has prompted empathy, compassion, and much more.
We must learn from our history or we are doomed to repeat it.
A minority growing up reading "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," I found it hard to read and share in the classroom. Yet our teachers made each discussion a teachable moment. They made sure each student felt validated, listened to, and honored.
It created so many conversations and revealed so many misconceptions, assumptions, truths, and wow moments. Reading and studying it together also brought a lot of tears, anger, disagreements, and conflicts.
Most importantly, it brought a variety of cultures together to learn from each other. There was kindness, empathy, support, courage, and a place to express our thoughts and feelings.
The n-word is never OK, in my opinion. Yet how we teach and reflect on it can change a person's perspective and thinking forever.
Having said all this: we still see struggles among cultures today and that, even with our vast cultural diversity in America, is shocking to me. I am a black woman married to a Norwegian/French man, and discrimination and racism still exist? Sad but true. Yet I will always have hope for change.
As a teacher and parent, I will continue to educate, listen, share, and be uncomfortable while shining a bright light to our younger generation.
As the teachers wrote, "We should find support and resources to ensure we are teaching it in ways that are responsive to our changing audiences." Yes, it is our job to facilitate change and to help make our world even better.
Future generations need to be equipped to stand up for their academic curriculum. We all have a voice, and it is important to hear from everyone - not just a few who are uncomfortable.
I am a parent, a teacher, a member of the community, and a taxpayer. I ask and hope that our school district will reverse its decision and bring back "To Kill a Mockingbird" to Duluth's classrooms. And I will continue to recommend to my friends, to parents, and to students that they read both "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "To Kill a Mockingbird."
LeVearne Hagen of Duluth was a teacher for more than 30 years and is now a Reading Corps tutor at Congdon Park Elementary. She is the parent of Jayson, 11th grade, and Rachel, seventh grade.