Day 279 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and my daughter is reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, because it is assigned reading in her American Literature class and has not (thus far) been banned!!
It's one of the books, along with To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee,* and Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, that routinely gets put on somebody's "banned" list because of what happens in it and because of the language of the times, which in these cases, involves racism. Alas! Since the message in all three of these books, if anyone bothered to read them, is against racism. The trouble with literature is so often that nobody is really reading, nobody is paying attention, nobody is looking closely or past the surface.
Perhaps I overstate. I respect the real issues here, but I think a good book stands as literature and a record of the social injustices of a given time. I have had no trouble with troublesome language in my own classrooms. I choose not to say the "n-word" aloud, given its negative historical charge during my own lifetime, but I leave it to my students to choose to say it aloud or not in our classroom, if we are reading aloud, and always feel they can read it silently and handle it and put it in its context, and they always can. Quite maturely and responsibly. Of course we discuss in advance what is appropriate classroom speech, when we are just talking, and we do not use language that would insult each other. Again, students are quite respectful of one another when given the chance.
*Harper Lee was the name of one of my cats.
So far, no controversy has arisen in the local high schools this year, but even since my return to this area in 2000, there was a flurry of trouble about books assigned at the high school level, which led to my research paper assignment for my college students: find a book that has been banned, or put on somebody's "banned book" list at some time in some community, or caused a controversy, and say why.
I left it to them to argue whether a particular book should or shouldn't have been "banned" or put on some list, and they made all sorts of wonderful arguments. Mostly, they didn't want the book to have been banned, they saw its value, and they loved it when they had read it in school, but sometimes they agreed that the book might be too much for a certain age group, and ought to be taught, for example, not freshman year but maybe junior or senior year of high school.
I love my students!
Loved, as my college students are in the past..., but, of course, I still love them! I loved my high school students, too, whom I taught (as a replacement teacher when I first moved back to town) for three dreadful months, in which I went to work, came home, fed my family, and went to bed, pulling the blanket over my head in despair sometimes as early as 6:30 p.m.
We read To Kill a Mockingbird together. Some refused to read, but came alive when we acted out the trial scene in class. And then cried when they saw Boo Radley for the first time, watching the film.
And I love my current students, of all ages, in the rare book room at Babbitt's, including my mom! Yes, yes, I love and "teach" my mom!
Speaking of my mom, my daughter was also recently reading the 1988 NCHS Yearbook, the Reverie, in which my mom, her grandmother, appears as the Old Loon in a play called Lucky Ducks, written by a man who still currently teaches at my daughter's high school! Perhaps the playwright will stumble upon my blog, care to comment, and identify himself.
"You must change your life," said Rilke. So that's what I keep doing. I worked as an actor and director in Chicago, wrote for an encyclopedia, edited two poetry journals, shelved and retrieved materials in several libraries, walked beans, and was an assistant professor of English. Now I serve as Poetry Editor and Editor at Large for Escape Into Life, an online arts magazine, write & edit as a freelancer, blog "eight days a week," study the random, tend perennials, and listen to birdsong.