In June of 2013, I wrote A Word By Any Other Name Would Enrage As Sweet-ly, an article about those that would ban Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a book many on the left and right–but particularly the left–constantly try to ban. Failing that, a college Eng,ish professor tookt he liberty of rewriting Huck Finn, replacing “nigger” and “Injun” throughout the book with “slave.” An English professor did that. I also spoke about the spillover, which has caused the more simple and literally minded to try to ban, and punish anyone that uses, the word “niggardly,” which has a Scandinavian origin and means “stingy” or “cheap.”
In July of 2015, I wrote Trouble With Twain and Shakespeare, the tale of a Los Angeles teacher, much honored and beloved, who made the mistake of quoting from Huck Finn. He was banished from the classroom. The LA school district is well known, not only as a poorly accomplished institution that badly fails its students, but as an example of the worst of all the left has to offer, which is very, very bad indeed.
And now, the virus has spread to Minnesota, another bastion of liberalism, as The Minneapolis Star Tribune explains:
Students in Duluth will no longer automatically get schooled in ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ or the trials of Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’
In an effort to be considerate of all students, the two novels, which contain racial slurs, will no longer be required reading in the district’s English classes next school year. They will still be available in the schools for optional reading, however.
‘The feedback that we’ve received is that it makes many students feel uncomfortable’ said Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction for the district. ‘Conversations about race are an important topic, and we want to make sure we address those conversations in a way that works well for all of our students.
And of course, no one, in the course of obtaining a basic education, should ever be exposed to anything that makes them feel in the least uncomfortable. After all, that’s in the Bill of Rights, isn’t it? The right never to be uncomfortable?
Cary said the decision, made as a group by district leaders and leaders in Duluth’s secondary schools, came after years of concerns shared by parents, students and community groups. The change was announced to district staff members late last week.
What Cary is not sharing is those “leaders” did not include teachers, presumably because all those “leaders” knew precisely what teachers would have to say about the matter, and didn’t want to hear it. If you’re a “leader,” you don’t need to hear from non-leaders. What the hell do teachers know about education and kids? They’d just get in the way of progress
Stephan Witherspoon, president of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP, called the move’“long overdue.’
‘The literature has ‘oppressive language for our kids’ Witherspoon said, and school should be an environment where children of color are learning equally. There are other novels with similar messages that can be taught, he said.
‘Our kids don’t need to read the ‘N’ word in school,’ Witherspoon said. ‘They deal with that every day out in the community and in their life. Racism still exists in a very big way.
I’m sure the tender children of high school age in Duluth have virtually never heard–or used–the word “nigger,” and on the extremely rare occasions when it crashes against their ultra sensitive ears, they surely run for the nearest safe space to stroke a fluffy puppy. Unfortunately, racism in our contemporary culture exists today primarily because the racial grievance industry, largely resurrected and given new life during the Obama years, keeps talk of it stirred. Actual racists are rightfully few and far between and are virtually always treated like the social, moral pariahs they are.
Carey said Duluth teachers will be ‘key’ in helping to select new texts.
Sure they will, because two of the best and most effective books ever written are now to be denied the students of that district, and teachers now have to scramble to find something else. Yes I know they’ll be available in the library, but any sentient person understands that means they will be out of sight and out of mind of the kids.
We’re doing this out of consideration of the impacts on our students and specifically different groups of students in our schools, and especially our communities of color,’ Cary said.
No they’re not. They’re pasty-faced white virtue signaling. And they’re as fatuous as they are clueless.
All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ Ernest Hemingway famously declared in 1935. ‘It’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.
Hemingway won the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes for literature when those prizes were actually awarded for good writing.
Doing away with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn–there is no “the” in the title–is not about replacing it with another book of equal value. There are no books of equal value. There is nothing like it. It is utterly unique, as unique and precious as Twain was, and as uniquely, beautifully American.
The master of satire, but more, a master of understanding human nature, Twain wrote for an audience still living with the realities of slavery. Published in America in 1885, the book found an audience where the Emancipation Proclamation was only 22 years old, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was 79 years into an indecipherable future. Telling his story through the eyes of a child, and in his own words, Twain gently, carefully led readers to question their beliefs, and to see a black man, and all black people, as moral, decent human beings. He is never strident or preachy, but moves readers to the inevitable, moral conclusions, and makes them ashamed they ever saw blacks as less than fully human. But because their shame is internal, experienced in the privacy of their homes, they are freed from peer pressure, from the strictures of public condemnation, and person by person, woman by man, Huck Finn and Jim changed America. And as America goes, so goes the world.
In one chapter, Huck writes a letter exposing Jim, a letter that will send him back into slavery, and is considering sending it, but experiences a change of heart:
All right, then, I’ll go to hell,’ Huck exclaims when he finally decides he’s not sending Jim back to slavery, and the choice is epic in its Americanness, its reckoning between public law and private conscience. ‘It was awful thoughts and awful words,’ Huck continues, ‘but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.
This is the moment Huck breaks away from everything he has been taught, everything he has ever believed, from the morality of his culture and its economic basis. He never goes back, and readers follow him.
Throughout the novel readers are forced to confront the reality that a little boy is more moral, more kind and good than most adults. Through his innate goodness, and that of Jim, theirs is reinforced and directed. It’s fascinating that as hard as Twain was on Christianity, and particularly its fallible practitioners, he used the same Christian methods of changing hearts, voluntarily and one at a time. We can never know precisely how many came to a greater acceptance of the equality of all because of the novel, but it is no coincidence it is still in print 133 years later, and it is every bit as controversial today as it was in 1885.
To Kill A Mockingbird is a novel of lesser importance, to be sure, but a fine work that in its own way not only upholds the dignity of all, but sets a stirring example of moral courage, of doing the right thing regardless of consequences. In Duluth, moral courage appears to consist of ensuring that the perpetually aggrieved and politically loud feel no faux-discomfort.
Imposing the social foibles of today on the past ensures only that we lose any knowledge of the past, and with it, the ability to build a better future. As a teacher of literature, I find that good art is universal and endlessly educational. When we return to good literature through the years, we find new lessons, new insights, new wisdom, because it’s impossible to experience all of the depth of such works in a single sitting. We can see new things, things that were always there waiting for us, because each time we return, we are new, with new experience, new insights, new understanding, and if we’re fortunate, greater wisdom, wisdom born of reading great literature, and being smart enough to return to it again and again.
Those that ban books such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn lack that wisdom. Perhaps they read it only once when they were young. Perhaps they have never read it, but they, and the innumerable kids they deny the opportunity, will never have the chance to develop the wisdom, the humanity, that only such an irreplaceable, indispensably American, book can offer.
Twain ended with this:
So there ain’t nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I’d a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t a tackled it, and ain’t a-going to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.
If Duluth is an example of civilization, like Huck, we’re better off without it.