WXMI — Forest Hills Public Schools are removing a reading supplement that includes the full spelling of a racial slur from their English language curriculum.
The textbook, ‘Elements of Literature: First Course,’ published by Holt, contains the article ‘A Mason-Dixon Memory,’ by Clifton Davis. In the reading, Davis, a black author, singer, actor and minister recalls his time growing up in a racially divided America and being denied the ability to accompany his class on a field trip that took them south of the Mason-Dixon line – the proverbial line that divided the slave-owning south from the north.
In the reading, Davis writes: “For the first time in my life, I was learning what it felt like to be a n---”
Sam Giffel has a 7th grade daughter who uses the textbook at Forest Hills Eastern Middle School. She was shocked when her daughter told her the word had been fully printed in the reading.
“What she came home and told me was the kids were saying it in the halls after class and sort of in class too,” said Giffel, who is black. “It is history, we talk about it. I would hope that other parents would have spoken about it with their children so they knew not to tease or throw it out, spewing a word of hate to a classmate.”
In a statement to FOX17, Forest Hills Public Schools said the textbook has been used in the district for 16 years, but is due for review by their Instruction Department. Here’s the district’s full statement:
Clifton Davis is an African American entertainer, minister, and author of the essay A Mason-Dixon Memory. This essay is one of many literary works from a wide range of authors contained within an English Language Arts textbook from Holt Rinehart & Winston. This essay chronicles a story of bigotry and the power of solidarity when standing up to discrimination. Oftentimes in literature, students explore themes of challenge, inhumanity, and the resolve of people to do the right thing. Whether it is To Kill A Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, or stories from war and conflict, teachers guide students through difficult themes and objectionable language. By studying a work of this nature, we are not trying to normalize bad behavior, but to see how human beings overcome hatred, discrimination, and inhumanity. This particular textbook is 16 years old and due for review through our Instruction Department. While this essay will not be taught going forward, the themes of standing up for what is right and overcoming inhumanity remain as important curricular standards in English Language Arts.
Giffel said after taking her concerns to the district, she heard from several other parents who told her they raised the same concerns about the same lesson in the past, to no avail.
“I think in 2021 we can teach without the use of that word,” Giffel said. “I don’t want to take away Clifton Davis’ writing at all, I think it was a very good article. But to be in seventh grade and read the whole article, when you come to that word, that’s your focus at that point.”