One of my pet peeves as a public school student was being required to read specific books. The reason this annoyed me was because I found the mandated books to be rather dull and below my reading level (I was reading above my grade level by a not insignificant amount). Because of my experience in public schools I’m of the opinion that mandatory reading lists should be tossed out entirely so students can pursue books that actually interest them (who knows, if reading is enjoyable instead of a chore it could even help boost literacy). But nobody cares what I think on the matter so students are stuck with mandatory reading lists and the inevitable battles over what books should appear on those lists.
The school district in Duluth is currently waging that battle:
DULUTH, Minn. — The novels “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” will no longer be required reading in the Duluth school district due to the books’ use of a racial slur, a curriculum change supported by the local NAACP chapter.
The two books will continue to be available in school libraries and can be optional reading for students, but beginning next school year, they’ll be replaced as required reading by other literature that addresses the same topics in ninth- and 11th-grade English classes, said Michael Cary, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.
Let me start off by saying that I understand why To Kill a Mockingbird is being removed from the mandatory reading list. The book is, among other things, a lesson on the importance of a justice system that assumes innocence until guilt is proven. Such a title could create a hostile environment for today’s judicial environment of guilty until proven innocent. I’m surprise the book hasn’t been outright banned from public schools yet. But I digress.
As with any other political issue, this issue has proven to be polarizing. A lot of people are upset that these two books are being removed from the mandatory reading lists. Their reasons vary but a lot of them are upset because of the given justification. Meanwhile, the other side of the camp is pleased as punch because books with offensive language are no longer on the mandatory reading list. What this really boils down to though is the lack of personal choice. The reading list is mandatory so each child in the school is required to read the books on it (or acquire the Cliff’s Notes so they can pass the pointless tests and spend the rest of their time reading books that they actually want to read). Since individuals aren’t interchangeable cogs, mandatory anything doesn’t work, especially when children are involved. First, you have the children. Some of them may enjoy some of the books on the mandatory reading list, others won’t. But then you also have the parents. Some of the parents will be pleased with some of the books on the mandatory reading list while, as demonstrated by this story, others won’t.
The heart of this problem is really the refusal to acknowledge individualism. Until individualism is acknowledged and that acknowledgement is acted on, this fight will have to be waged again and again.