Literary Outrages, With Pushback From the Sane

Here in Minnesota, we are witnessing two instances of the collapse of our educational institutions, both having to do with “controversial” literature. One year ago in Duluth, the public school administration banned both Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird–two indisputably great American novels–from the classroom. Now, sixteen brave Duluth teachers have protested the administration’s decision. My colleague Tom Steward has the story. The teachers’ letter is here. The letter is well worth reading in its entirety, but here are some excerpts:

5. Administrators removed the novels without any teacher input. They failed to ask teachers how they teach the novels and how students receive them.
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8. Administrators hundreds of students’ letters and survey responses protesting the decision.
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English teachers are angry and demoralized. The district is about to spend a lot of money to implement a book that is not engaging and simply makes a lateral move from discussing the historical oppression of African Americans to that of Native Americans, while lacking an engaging story line. [Ed.: Apparently it goes without saying that books assigned to public school students must be about oppression by white Americans.]

Most importantly, students will be adversely affected. Instead of reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning best-loved novel in the country written by the recipient of two presidential medals, they will be required to read something that everyone present on January 10 agreed would not engage them.

But then, we all know that public education is not carried out for the benefit of the students! Leftist narratives uber alles.

It is too soon to tell what will happen in Duluth. Meanwhile, moving to the college level, Minneapolis’s Augsburg University is embroiled in an even dumber controversy. Again, Tom Steward has the facts.

Briefly, an award-winning Augsburg professor named Phillip Adamo has been suspended from teaching at Augsburg because he read to a class a passage from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time that included the word “nigger.” The Fire Next Time is a formidable production which Scott has praised on this site. Unfortunately, the excerpt from the book that Professor Adamo read to his class contained–wait for it!–the dreaded N-word. Once again, my colleague Tom Steward reports:

Augsburg University’s suspension of a respected history and medieval studies professor who quoted a passage from a James Baldwin book that included the “N-word” in an honors seminar has ignited an intense debate over academic freedom on campus.

Professor Phillip Adamo was suspended in October but the controversy only came to light recently after Augsburg took further steps to sanction him. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has come to Adamo’s defense raising concerns over “the climate for academic freedom at Augsburg” and due process on campus.

It is refreshing to see a mainstream academic group taking a rational position. What needs to be emphasized here is that Professor Adamo simply read a passage of Baldwin’s book in which the African-American author used the word “nigger.” It is deeply ironic that white liberals in academia are now trying to censor one of the seminal black activist authors. Perhaps they just don’t know any better: my opinion of school administrators has fallen about as low as it can get.

Highlights from the AAUP letter:

Professor Adamo’s suspension also raises the concern that it was effected in violation of his academic freedom, as it appears to have been primarily based on classroom speech that was clearly protected by principles of academic freedom.
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Citing On Freedom of Expression, Freedom in the Classroom acknowledges the need to “foster an atmosphere respectful of and welcoming to all persons,” adding, “An instructor may not harass a student nor act on an invidiously discriminatory ground toward a student.” However, Freedom in the Classroom observes that “[i]deas that are germane to a subject under discussion in a classroom cannot be censored because a student” might be offended….

To the extent that the administration’s actions against Professor Adamo are based on his reading from The Fire Next Time in his class, they violate his freedom in the classroom under principles of academic freedom long recognized by this Association and in Augsburg University’s faculty handbook.

Rampant political correctness has pretty much overridden quaint notions of academic freedom in America’s educational institutions. We see the consequences all around us. But it is good to see that here and there, denizens of the academic swamp, who may be liberal but are not completely crazy, are fighting back.

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