The Politico did a fairly in-depth piece today on a move by two Democratic state lawmakers in New Jersey to get teachers to stop teaching “Huckleberry Finn”:
“The novel’s use of a racial slur and its depictions of racist attitudes can cause students to feel upset, marginalized or humiliated and can create an uncomfortable atmosphere in the classroom,” reads the resolution, NJ ACR225, by Assembly members Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer) and Jamel Holley (D-Union). The resolution also notes that school districts in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Minnesota and Mississippi have removed the book from their curricula.
Reynolds-Jackson said in a phone interview that she decided to introduce the resolution after a student in Hopewell was charged with cyberbullying over racist messages and lynching threats he allegedly made to black students over Snapchat. While the book was not involved in that controversy, Reynolds-Jackson said she wants to use it as “a teachable moment.”
So the book was not a motivator in the incident in question but we’re still going to hold it up as an example of something that could potentially be a motivator, I guess?
Here’s the summary statement from the resolution:
Reynolds-Jackson also cited President Trump as a factor in her decision to co-sponsor this resolution:
“I think this is a racist book,” she said. “I think in the climate that we’re in right now, where you have a president that is caging up our children and separating us in this way, I think to use this book in this climate is not doing the African-American community any justice at all.”
Attempts at getting educators to stop teaching this book have been going on for decades, but it’s only in the last few that we’ve seen a shift in the rationale – mainly due to the players involved.
Remember the book-burning scene from the 1984 movie “Footloose”?
In the 70s in 80s, religious groups like the Moral Majority wanted books like “Huckleberry Finn” banned because they found them crude. They moved on, but their modern-day equivalents on the left target it because they believe the use of the “n” word in the book makes it racist.
This is really silly, and ridiculously ignorant on top of everything else. As Politico also points out:
The Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison wrote that the first couple of times she read “Huckleberry Finn“ as a child, she felt “fear and alarm” and “muffled rage.” But, she wrote, she came to appreciate it in later readings, and called efforts to ban the book “a purist yet elementary kind of censorship designed to appease adults rather than educate children.”
Morrison praised the book for “its ability to transform its contradictions into fruitful complexities and to seem to be deliberately cooperating in the controversy it has excited.”
“The brilliance of Huckleberry Finn is that it is the argument it raises,” she wrote.
That this is a non-binding resolution means nothing. Non-binding can turn into mandatory over a period of time, especially if legislators aren’t satisfied that their initial efforts produced the results they wanted to see.
I can understand the desire to age-restrict it in the classroom to, say, 14 years and up, because the sensitive material and lessons from it would be easier digested by older students. But calling for it to be pulled – full-stop – from classrooms does students and teachers alike a disservice.
—Sister Toldjah is a former liberal and a 15+ year veteran of blogging with an emphasis on media bias, social issues, and the culture wars. Read her Red State archives here. Connect with her on Twitter.–