January 13, 2011

Critical Thinking: "Nigger" Edition

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Mark Twain Controversy
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook


Thank you, Larry Wilmore!  Best defense of Huckleberry Finn, ever!  Whenever I hear about this controversy my mind flashes to that scene in "The Hobart Shakespearians" where the class is reading the scene in Huckleberry Finn, in which Huck decides he will go to hell to save his friend Jim.  Every fifth grader in that class in openly weeping.  And there are people that think kids can't handle it?  Whatever.  It's essential.

13 comments:

Beth S. said...

It's so funny that this is such an issue today. I graduated from high school in 1998 and we read ALL the banned books back then. Of course, I went to a Catholic school so we didn't have to cow-tow to taxpayers. Plus it was a fairly liberal Catholic school so we didn't have any crazy religious parents protesting (that I recall anyway).

But it makes me so angry today to know that we are trying to sugarcoat history. The intentions of changing the word are good: so that more students can have access to quality American literature. But at what cost? As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Jim Randolph said...

Beth,

Exactly. Screw the good intentions and let the students know it's okay to be shocked and to learn from that shock

Thanks,
Jim

Beth said...

I'm uncomfortable with the censored version, but I think the purpose isn't to whitewash history. It's not about pretending that the n-word wasn't used, it's about kids in the present having to hear that word now. And to hear it in the voice of their teachers and schools.

I know in my house I've adjusted some text while reading out loud (I'm thinking of Kipling's Just So stories and Burnett's Secret Garden). There are other books I think my kids would enjoy, and they are on our shelves, but I don't actively push them or read them out loud because of the racism/anti-semitism. We talk about time and place, but I don't want to endorse the concepts lingering in the texts. I'm not pretending that stuff never happened, but I don't want to even unconsciously give the impression that it's OK today.

By high school, kids are old enough to handle things. But I'm not sure I'd want the unabridged Huck Finn taught in fifth grade. (which means I don't want it taught then at all)

Jim Randolph said...

Beth,

I am more uncomfortable with ignoring this work of genius, this book Hemingway pointed to as the beginning of true American literature, than I am with your seeming slight discomfort at censoring.

Yes, nigger is a terrible word and it's terrible that he's known as Nigger Jim (which he actually would have been back then) and it's terrible that he was a slave and that he was considered property. But then despite all that, this troubled boy decides that he doesn't care. Jim is his friend and he will go to hell for Jim and help him. Human thought and feeling at it finest. You don't want that read and thought about by a fifth grader? Really?

klonghall said...

I'm about to start reading Huck w/ my 8th grader. I figure I'd better take advantage to this year I have him homeschooled to expose him to the great literature that I'm not sure he'll get to read when he returns to public school next year. We did "To Kill a Mockingbird" back in November and he loved it for all the reasons I hoped he would. (And, on a completely unrelated note, I got myself a Kindle for my upcoming birthday. I hope you'll do a post soon about what you like (and dislike) about yours.)

Jim Randolph said...

klonghall,

As long as you're having fun with those books. Don't force it. I tried Huck when I was younger, but it didn't take. But I loved it in college. It's only now in my 40s that I'm appreciating some books I was exposed to too early in life.

I wasn't planning on a Kindle post (there's more than enough of those out there) but hey, anything to please a reader. I'll work up something this weekend.

Thanks,
Jim

melanie said...

Thanks for posting this video. The censoring of this book makes me angry in a lot of ways, and Larry Wilmore expresses those ways a lot more eloquently and humorously than I could.

Also, I now have The Hobart Shakespeareans on my hold list at the library. I've seen Esquith's books, but didn't know about this documentary--I can't wait to see it.

Jim Randolph said...

melanie,

Glad you liked the video and you found out about the excellent Hobart Shakespearians! Enjoy!

Thanks,
Jim

Carrie said...

Thanks for the video link! My mother and I were discussing this just yesterday.

One of the things I kept coming back to was that if you never have children encounter uncomfortable things in books how can you teach them to think critically about them? How can you get them to reflect on why that word was used then, whether it would be used now, and form their own opinion about it.

But for me there's also a question of value - does the importance of the book out weigh the negatives. I'm not going to teach or use a book that has offensive language/racist concepts if it doesn't have enough other merit.

For me, Indian in the Cupboard, while a great, fun story, isn't enough of a great, fun story to merit inclusion in my curriculum. There are other adventure stories and cross-racial friendship stories I can use that don't require reading relentless stereotyping of Native Americans.

Beth S. - I was taught Huck Finn in public school. Not all tax-payers complain, not all districts live in fear of them (thankfully).

Jim Randolph said...

Carrie,

Thank you for the thoughtful comments!

C.B. James said...

I'm not concerned much with this edition. I think most of the controversy is on the manufactured side. This will be one version among many, many versions. Those who read it will at least be reading Huckleberry Finn.

I believe Huck's power as a novel will survive this bit of editing. Huck's power does not come from using the word 'nigger.'

Huck will abide.

klonghall said...

I'm happy to report that my 8th grader stayed up way too late last night bc he didn't want to put Huck down. This kid "gets" books like this so much better than I did at his age. He loves a good adventure story, and that's how he sees Huck. We talked about the historical context, dialect, racism, etc. Kids get stuff like that better than we give the credit, sometimes. Kids love a good story, really, and Mark Twain knows how to tell one.

Jim Randolph said...

klonghall,

Happy to hear it! I'm dipping into his Innocents Abroad now and it's just hilarious so far.