Monday, January 24, 2011

A Last Word on African-American Jim
Earlier posts on this subject: 
From The Learning Network of The New York Times are available around fifty links to articles and lesson plans for teaching lessons on Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, and the issue of censorship.

For instance, the site provides a letter, published September 6, 1902, written by Twain and addressed to the Omaha Public Library, which had banned Huck Finn. He ironically mentions in his letter how the hubbub of banning the novel creates curiosity in the minds of people who have not read the book, causing them to read it, and whose "morals will go to wreck and ruin now."

On the right sidebar of The Learning Network are links to the traditional areas of academic focus, such as math, current events, history, and geography. Linking to those sites will lead the reader to teaching ideas and lesson plans.

A colleague told me that if he were to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with his students, the original would be read but any passages read aloud would not use the word nigger, recognizing the negative power of the word. That is one solution. Some teachers will choose to remove the "n-word" from the text altogether. Many abbreviated and simplified (re-written for children) versions already have. As with all teaching, the actual activities in class have to be determined by the teacher's teaching style and by the perspectives and abilities of the students.

Online debate (and The New York Times) has provided a great resource for teaching, allowing an exploration of issues and emotions to prepare a foundation for teaching such a volatile novel. Personally, I think the time to teach to such issues as bigotry is when I find young people beginning to mimic those behaviors, innocently picking up behaviors seen on the streets and via the media--or not so innocently. It is time then to discuss and provide experiences to help those students make informed decisions regarding their attitudes, speech, and behavior.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one novel that still provides fertile ground for the discussion of bigotry--and humanity. Whatever strategies teachers use with this novel, it is important to remember one thing: we teach students, not content. Assessing the readiness of students who are going to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is important because then the teacher can make informed decisions as to how to teach the novel.

As a last word, here is a satirical cartoon about removing the controversial elements from Huck Finn: Tom the Dancing Bug: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Corrected to reflect modern sensibilities).

Copyright 2011 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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