The Monona Grove School District is reviewing a parent request to remove the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird from the high school English curriculum, Monona Grove High School principal Paul Brost confirmed Thursday.
The request, made by parent Tujama Kameeta, cites 48 racial slurs directed at African Americans in the book.
“The n-word is used so many times that it numbs the readers to its potency. Reading the book just perpetuates racists thoughts and attitudes in a school district that actively discriminates against children of color,” Kameeta wrote in a statement provided to Madison365.
“We feel they are actually teaching kids to use racial slurs,” he said in an interview. “They haven’t grown up seeing those words used that way. They’re learning to put those words together to use them for power over people of color.”
The book is widely seen as pro-equality, telling the story of a white lawyer who defends a wrongly accused Black man. That doesn’t make it acceptable to Kameeta, who has one son in the high school and another child in Cottage Grove schools
Kameeta noted also that the author, Harper Lee, never experienced racism, nor did the white protagonist, Scout Finch. He also notes that Atticus Finch, the white lawyer and father of the protagonist, “reinforces the Hollywood stereotype of the white savior.”
“The novel reduces black people to passive, humble victims and ignores the reality of black agency in resistance,” he wrote in the statement. “Black people are robbed of their role as subjects of history and are portrayed as mere spectators and bystanders in the struggle against their own exploitation and oppression.”
Kameeta also said there are no writers of color represented in the curriculum of the course his son is currently taking.
“It’s the only book that takes racism and describes it like that,” he said. “Kids are not getting an equal share of the information.”
Kameeta also noted that the school district, which is 83 percent white, has deep racial disparities.
“When looking at student achievement the percentage of black students scoring below proficiency in English increased from 79% in 2015-2016 to 81.1 % in 2016-2017,” Kameeta wrote, citing state Department of Public Instruction data. “While the percentage of white students scoring below proficiency in English decreased from 38.4% in 2015-2016 to 35.1% in 2016-2017. This data shows there is a real tangible racial disparity at the Monona Grove High School and this book with 48 racial slurs does nothing to help remove the racial disparities that are evident within the school district.
Kameeta said he has corresponded with English teachers and school administrators and sees no reason a different book could not be used.
“Communications with the English department, prior to the formal submission, revealed that the educational standards covered using this book could be taught using any book,” he wrote in his statement. “Throughout e-mail communications with English department staff, a parent forum discussion with the high school principal, and a meeting with the district Director of Instruction, high school principal, English department coordinator, and our son’s English teacher, no one could provide us with an educationally sound reason for including this book and the use of the n-word in the curriculum.”
Based on the school’s response, he is not confident they will honor his request.
“We fear … that this will just get kicked around in committees and they’ll continue to use this book” when the time comes later this semester, he said.
Brost, the high school principal, said the school’s Curriculum and Instruction team would go through a formal review process, but he wasn’t aware Thursday afternoon whether it had begun. He also said he didn’t have an opinion on Kameeta’s request.
District administrators were at a convention Thursday and a voicemail left with District Superintendent Daniel Olson was not immediately returned. Madison365 will continue to follow this story and update with any new information on the review process.