Classic Literature or Embarrassing Relics?

We generally notice when school districts adjust reading lists in English Literature classes.  So when I  heard about the Duluth School district's decision to remove "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and "To Kill A Mockingbird" from their required reading lists, I was very skeptical.   So was opinion writer, DJ Tice, where he argues below about the suffocating freedom of thought and that these books are "about so much more than America's racial past".

One week later, I read another opinion piece from a former high school English teacher.  (This was a counterpoint in response to DJ Tice's piece).   Lee J. Woolman describes of his personal decision to remove both of these works from his teaching.   The personal story of how a student felt about reading these works out loud illustrates how policy affects individuals. Ultimately he argues that these books may be part of the problem rather than a solution to the racial problems in the United States.

'Mockingbird,' 'Huck Finn': At least keep these two books as part of your personal curriculum

DJ Tice

I couldn’t seem to ... harden ... against him ... I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n ... so I could go on sleeping; and ... do[ing] everything he could think of for me ... I says to myself: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” ... and never thought no more about reforming ... I would take up wickedness ... And for a starter, I would ... steal Jim out of slavery...; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too ...

— “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

There is no such thing as a truly educated American who has not read the masterpieces of Harper Lee and Mark Twain. So public high school students in Duluth will have more self-enrichment to seek now that Duluth school officials have decided to remove two of our nation’s literary treasures from their required English curriculum.

But don’t fret none, as Huck might say. No one who truly cares about being an educated person — or about English, literature, or history — will fail in time to seek out Atticus and Scout, Huck and Jim, Boo and Tom, the King and the Duke, and all the rest. <more>

Counterpoint: Why I banished 'Huckleberry Finn' from my classroom

Lee J. Woolman

Counterpoint: Why I banished 'Huckleberry Finn' from my classroom
Yes, he allows as how some black parents could bristle at the frequent use of the “N-word.” The thrust of his commentary, however, is to minimize that concern and instead focus on what I suppose he believes is yet another example of “thought police” at work.

Tice’s ability to take such a stand is classic white privilege.

As a high school English teacher for many years, it took me a long time to appreciate how my black students were responding to class discussions, which usually required textual references, of Pap, Huck and the Duke frequently using the “N-word.” I long felt uncomfortable teaching “Huck Finn” because of that word, but kept it in the curriculum out of such excuses as “we’ve always used ‘Huck Finn’ with sophomores” or “but it is a classic American novel.”

My classes in a mostly white school often had only two or three African-American students. And there they sat, hearing their classmates daily for a month regularly using the “N-word” under official auspices. <more>

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