|Huck and Jim sharing stories|
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.