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Where Are U of M Duluth Champions of Banned Books Now?

The University of Minnesota Duluth Office of Diversity and Inclusion makes a big deal out of Banned Books Week each fall. In fact, the office goes so far as to actually “celebrate” the occasion, an odd choice of words to highlight what they depict as an imminent threat to society.

The campus hosts an open house to publicize the campaign, inviting students and the public to “stop by anytime during this free and informal event to celebrate Banned Books Week!”

This event, co-sponsored by the Duluth Public Library, is in celebration of Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. According to the American Library Association, “Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community—librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types—in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

The celebration reminds that “words have power” and urges students and supporters to “read a banned book.” It’s all part of a broader campaign coordinated with some of the most leftwing academic and advocacy groups in the country.

According to the American Library Association, “Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community—librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types—in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

The Banned Books Week Open House is part of the Reading Without Walls program, which is designed to create a community of readers at UMD and in Duluth and encourage participants to encounter, discuss, and share diverse ideas, characters, genres, and perspectives through reading.

But where are UMD’s banned book champions now that a real life teachable moment has presented them an opportunity to take a public stand on the issue in their own back yard? Duluth Public Schools effectively censored two American masterpieces last week, Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, pulling them out of the curriculum at the behest of the local NAACP. The books will remain available in the library–for now.

It was an easy call for the National Coalition Against Censorship. American Experiment highlighted NCAC’s condemnation of  the Duluth school district’s action as a clear cut case of censorship that threatens the exercise of free speech.

Public schools are constitutionally bound by the First Amendment to prioritize legitimate pedagogical interests above the subjective viewpoints of individual members of the community.  Parents can request an alternative book if they object to an assigned text.  But no parent or group of parents is qualified to make the choice of what other children should read.

But a check of local media coverage and of the UMD website failed to find a word to indicate the Diversity and Inclusion office has taken a stand on the effective censorship of the two classic novels in their community. No sign that the no longer theoretical controversy occurring in front of them will be incorporated into UMD’s Banned  Book Week festivities any time soon.

The university could and should have called for a community dialogue, encouraging the district to reconsider or holding a forum on the pros and cons of preventing public school students from exposure to Twain and Lee in class. But UMD apparently turned an opportunity into a textbook case of academic hypocrisy.

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