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California school district bans 'racist' classics: 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' 'Huckleberry Finn,' 'Of Mice and Men,' and more are gone



Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Administrators at the Burbank Unified School District have determined that a variety of classic novels — including Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and more — will no longer be permitted for curriculum use following concerns of racism.

What are the details?

According to a Tuesday Newsweek report, middle school and high school English teachers will not be able to include the following books in lessons following reports of parental concerns of racism:

  • Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird"
  • Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"
  • John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men"
  • Theodore Taylor's "The Cay"
  • Mildred D. Taylor's "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry"
The outlet reported that four parents — three of whom are black — reportedly said the classic novels posed "alleged potential harm" to the district's "roughly 400 black students."

What are people saying about this?

One parent, identified as Carmenita Helligar, said a white student approached her black daughter and taunted her with the N-word, which the student said he "learned" from reading "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry."

Another boy reportedly told Helligar's child, "My family used to own your family, and now I want a dollar from each of you for the week."

Helligar told the outlet, "My daughter was literally traumatized. These books are problematic ... you feel helpless because you can't even protect your child from the hurt that she's going through."

Nadra Ostrom, another black parent, said that the books are problematic because there is "no counter narrative to this black person dealing with racism and a white person saving them."

What else is there to know?

The National Coalition Against Censorship sent a letter to the district urging the administration to reconsider the move.

"[W]e believe that the books ... have a great pedagogical value and should be retained in the curriculum," a spokesperson for the organization wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Poets, Essayists, and Novelists America also crafted a petition demanding the district reinstate the use of the books.

A portion of the petition says, "Each of the books in question deal with difficult subject matter from our country's complicated and painful history, including systemic racism. Blocking engagement with these important books is also avoiding the important role that schools can and should play in providing context for why these books inspire and challenge us still today."

At least one district teen created and distributed a Change.org petition calling for the district to stop the censorship.

A portion of the teen's petition states, "In a time where racism has become more transparent than ever, we need to continue to educate students as to the roots of it; to create anti-racist students. These literatures, of which have been declared 'Books that Shaped America' by the Library of Congress, won Newbury Medals, and are some of the most influential pieces, cannot disappear."

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