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Teaching Huck Finn?

By: Brianna Prill and Ashley Geditz

History

Since its publication, Huck Finn has been enjoyed by academics, critics,
and casual readers, and yet...
The Concord Public Library banned it within a year of publication.
Other public and school libraries followed suit.
Grievances included obscenity, atheism, bad grammar, coarse manners,
low moral tone, and antisouthernism. (Henry)
Racism and the N-word became an issue later.
The novel entered English curriculums around the time of desegregation.
Schools all over the country faced complaints and dropped the book from
curriculums.
Teachers continue to question the merits of teaching the novel.

Debate
The word sums up for us who are
colored all the bitter years of insult
and struggle in America. - Langston
Hughes
Far more than a synonym for slave [the
n-word] signifies a concept. It
conjures centuries of specifically
black degradation and humiliation
during which the family was
disintegrated, education was denied,
manhood was trapped within a forced
perpetual puerilism, and womanhood
was destroyed by concubinage.
-Peaches Henry

[parents] prize Twains dangerous and


equivocal novel not inspite of its use of
that wicket epithet, but for the way in
which it manages to ironize it; enabling
us to finally- without denying our horror
or our guilt - to laugh therapeutically at
the peculiar institution of slavery Leslie Fiedler
And then, on the river, on the raft with
Jim, shucking off that blind ignorance
because this runaway slave is the most
honest, perceptive, fair-minded man that
this white boy has ever known. - Nat
Hetnoff
from The Struggle for Tolerance: Race and Censorship in
Huckleberry FInn by Peaches Henry

Classifications
Targets of censorship
Profane, obscene, and otherwise objectionable language

Explicit depiction of sexual activity (Catcher in the Rye)

Satanism, Witchcraft, and the Occult (Harry Potter book series)

Critical Anti-American Materials (The Jungle by Upton Sinclair)


o it inadequately supported the idea of capitalistic initiatives

from School Censorship in the 21st Century: a guide for teachers and school library media specialists
by John S. Simmons and Eliza T.. Dresang

Controversy

Is Huck Finn in its own censorship category?


What is it about Huck Finn?
o Use of the N-word?
o Number of times used?
o Unclear context
Huck Finn racial criticism
o Too sophisticated and nuanced for young readers?
Ethics of teaching Huck Finn
o N-word has violent, oppressive connotations
o Asking students to deal with potentially emotionally charged issues
and personal experiences

Questions
1. What reasons do you feel should lead to a book being removed from curriculum in
schools?
2. What are the positives and negatives of removing Huck Finn from the curriculum? Does
one outweigh the other?
3. Is it ethical to subject young people to language with strong connotative violent
meaning?
4. Are there methods to teach controversial books in ways that they are not harmful or
offensive?
5. Is there merit in teaching books that contain violent language and themes?
6. Who should make the choice about what books students are exposed to?

Works Cited
Twain, Mark, Gerald Graff, and James Phelan. Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn: a case study in critical controversy. Boston: Bedford
Books of St. Martin's Press, 1995. Print.
Simmons, John, Dresang, Eliza. School Censorship in the 21st
Century: a guide for teachers and school library media specialists. Newark:
International Reading Association Inc. 2001. Print.