General Teacher Chat

Whitewashing Huckleberry

A censored copy of Huckleberry Finn that replaces the N-word with "slave" is getting a lot of attention in the education community and beyond. The Huffington Post editorial (which mentions TeachHUB - woo woo) is one of several outcries against this level of censorship. Writer Hetert-Qebu Walters argues that completing ignoring this word's presence in the book and in history eliminates a teachable moment in classrooms: Walters writes: " The big deal is that even though many teachers use the word slave in class, the novel still used the offensive term. Confronting that word is important. That confrontation was difficult for me as a young black girl, but the book was set during difficult times and I understood that even more as I read the book because my teacher was there to help me." What do you think? Are you for or against this PC rewrite of classic literature? "

I understand the resistance of publishers and educators to resist introducing offensive language in the classroom, but I also feel like we often underestimate students' intelligence.

It's not fair to history or to our students to pretend those words never exists (or that they don't exist today). It's important, especially within this story, to see how ingrained racism was in society and in its language.

On the other hand, I'm not a fan of censorship of any kind, so it seems silly to prevent an edited version for those reader or educators who don't feel it's appropriate.

At the end of the day, it's up to the school and the teacher to decide how to confront this in their classrooms.

Rather than censor all the inappropriate language, I saw this as an opportunity to talk with my students about Twain's world. Twain makes it clear that he wrote about HIS world. This piece of literature is not only classic literature, but also history from which we can glean, nay learn, a few things. After giving my students a fair view into Twain's world, I would ask them, "Can we look beyond a word and discover what this story and these people can teach us?" My students always said resoundingly, "YES!"

If we want to push students to be better critical thinkers and writers, we need to give them a chance to do it!