About this Blog

The title of this blog, "I'm About to do My Thing," was inspired by Jill Scott's introduction to her poem "The Thickness" from her live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. In this intro, she warns that the content to follow is "real" and proceeds to deliver a beautiful message about self-esteem in young black girls, what can influence and damage that self-esteem, and the entire village's responsibility--"it takes a village"--to elevate its children.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Teach--Don't Delete

Huck and Jim sharing stories
You might have heard about the Auburn University-Montgomery Twain Scholar, Alan Gribben, whose forthcoming edition of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn replaces the word nigger with “slave.” (It does the same with Injun.) Gribben’s rationale, after teaching the text for years and finding that many students dismiss the text because of the word, is that this revision will open more students, parents, and school districts up to a text whose richness is being ignored because of one slur. He’s probably right.

He’s drawing criticism, though, from a number of sources. One of the main gripes is that this edit removes an important aspect of the text’s historical context, specifically America’s spotty past, and precludes an important teaching moment about racism and slavery in this country. As University of Virginia professor Stephen Railton puts it, “If we can’t do that in the classroom, we can’t do it anywhere.”

After all, is the classroom a place to avoid the hard lessons or to teach them? That’s not to say that it’s entirely up to teachers to convey the lessons of history to our children. Parents have to step in and educate their children about their heritage and America’s past. However, if teachers aren’t teaching these lessons, what are they doing instead? Huck Finn isn’t just about a boy’s adventure with an escaped slave. It’s a very mature tale about a poor white boy who can see past the prejudices around him to view a black man as a man and a friend.

Of course, it’s not all that sweet and pretty. Huck is definitely a product of his environment and the times, but he’s much more evolved than the adults who try to tell him what to do. And his use of nigger both highlights the idiocy of racism and undermines the social structure that would allow a friend to use the word in the first place.

I didn’t read Huck Finn until I had reached college—in many ways, it’s a very grown-up book—but young people could stand to confront the issues of racism that plagued our country way back when and that still plague our country today. By allowing children to compare and contrast their own world with that of Huck’s, teachers can have them grapple with these tough issues in (hopefully) a safe space centered on learning instead of avoidance.