…I’m not, really, but I suspect I’m going to get one anyway.
Go read this article. It’s okay, I can wait and the article’s short.
You didn’t click on the link, did you.
Sigh. People nowadays.
That’s okay, actually, as this article’s really easy to nutshell and isn’t very complicated: a high school in Philadelphia has decided to stop teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in their eleventh-grade language arts classes, primarily because of the book’s repeated (over 200 times, apparently) use of the N-word. Predictably, folks are mad.
I feel like this is the part where I should start establishing my Twain bona fides. I’ve read Finn and Sawyer repeatedly. His Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses is one of the greatest pieces of writing in the history of the English language. And I have read a ton of Twain outside of those three pieces, although obviously those are the big ones.
(Takes deep breath)
I’m good with this, guys.
Lemme be real specific, here: I’m not saying whether Finn should or shouldn’t be taught in high schools. I’m saying that I’m okay with the decision made by this high school that the difficulties introduced by the language in the book outweigh the literary benefits of making the kids all read it. I note that the book will remain in the library, where kids who want to read it can still easily access it. And that, to me, makes an immense amount of difference.
Here is the thing, and it’s one of the most wonderful things about literature: I am absolutely certain that I will die without running out of things to read. Absolutely certain. I will die regretting never having had read something. And that’s speaking as someone who reads 125-150 books a year. The median number of books read by adults per year in the United States, a number in this case more useful than the average, is five.
In other words, there are lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of books that high school students could be reading as part of their English classes. Several of them are even by Twain. Even more are from the same time period as Twain, and cover similarly pedagogically-useful material! Relatively fewer guarantee that you’ll have to spend sizeable chunks of your class time debating whether your kids have to or should read the word nigger out loud if for some reason they have to read something out loud.
(Yes, it’s still useful for high school students to have something read to them from time to time. Choral or turn-based reading, maybe not, especially at the class level, but even a class with no out-loud reading at all will surely have to repeat a passage every now and again while discussing it.)
Is Huckleberry Finn one of the foundational works of American literature? Hell yes. Should everyone– American or otherwise– read Huckleberry Finn? Yes. Eventually.
I have more trouble with the suggestion that everyone must read Huck Finn while 1) in high school and 2) under the auspices of an English teacher. Pull Huck from your library? Make it unavailable in bookstores? You and me, we gon’ fight. Pull it from a college curriculum? Less defensible, since those kids generally have a lot more leeway about what classes they’re taking.
But I just can’t get mad that a high school has decided that this one book isn’t worth the effort of the external issues it brings with it. I almost feel like it’s better taught in history classes anyway, where the social milieu of the book can be discussed more fully, and hopefully by people a bit more qualified to do so. (At this point I laugh, because I know full well that the first name of most high school history teachers is “Coach,” but I also know I had a couple of really good ones.)
So, yeah. Feel free to call me an asshole in comments now. I think I’m okay with this.