25 January 2009

Another teacher wants to ban "Huckleberry Finn"

There's a delightful and insightful editorial at Lew Rockwell today, citing an L.A. Times article that quoted a teacher wondering "whether students should still read books that depict black men as ignorant, inarticulate, and uneducated." Herewith some excerpts from the editorial:
Twain’s novel hosts a character called Nigger Jim, and according to Foley, now that "Barack Obama is president-elect of the United States, novels that use the ‘N-word’ repeatedly need to go." (Note the English teacher’s dubious placement of the adverb.) That Twain may have named his character in accordance with a reality he was endeavoring to depict… That Twain may have said: "Our Civil War was a blot on our history, but not as great a blot as the buying and selling of Negro souls…"

But let’s leave Foley to his syllabus for now and turn to Mark Twain, who may or may not have said: "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." [He] was an equal opportunity offender... about Government, Science, Religion, Education, Greed, Piety, War, Language… Among those who might have found occasion to take offense (but who far more often found occasion to laugh) were the rich, poor, middle-class, Mormons, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, beggars, plutocrats, pundits, whites, blacks, conservatives, liberals, Germans, Irish, English, Native Americans, prudes, politicians, patriots, cannibals, missionaries, imperialists, children, lawyers, Sunday school teachers, educators, policemen, yokels, sophisticates, soldiers…

What burned Twain up was that smug, back-slapping, self-congratulatory nonsense we all submit to at one time or another regarding our perceived superiority – our superior intelligence, superior morality, superior species, superior education, superior genes, superior religion, superior flag. Twain simply wanted to remind us of our place. Not some of us – all of us. Not some races or religions or nationalities – all of them…

The new President has proven himself able to discuss race and religion in an intelligent, forthright, adult fashion. I suspect our high school students, whatever their race or religion, can manage that too. I suspect they are grown up enough to handle Huckleberry Finn, N-word and all, provided the same can be said for their parents and teachers.

1 comment:

  1. To ban this book, and others, of earlier times because of their language is to deny young americans of a view of the realities of their own history.
    Mark Twain's words are a reflection of beliefs and attitudes which were commonplace, and accepted, in his time.
    One might hope shock and surprise amongst today's students at hearing his dialogue and seeing it to be so at odds with today's realities.
    Only by reading of other times can they learn that what we now take for granted was not always so, and only by such learning will they understand the importance of those who paved the way for change.

    I met young Germans who had no idea who Hitler was, or why they were abused, despised, and spat upon, in some countries of europe.
    This was because the allies' de-nazification project of the post second world-war years was so successful, -every possible reference to Hitler and Nazism was expunged from the books in the libraries, from history, swastikas were chiselled off buildings, and the concentration camps, the occupation of europe, genocide, the war, were swept under the carpet, never to be mentioned.
    As a result, a generation grew up with no idea of the fairly recent past. Until it travelled beyond Germany's borders.
    My friend then questioned her relatives. "What did you do in the war, grand-pa?".


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