Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lucky Ducks

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.

Perhaps the Old Loon will do likewise.


DJ Vorreyer said...

I can't imagine not teaching Mockingbird or Huck Finn. And I teach them to 7th/8th graders, who handle the language and the ideas well. But the sensitivity with which they are taught is a significant factor here -unfortunately, I have heard horror stories about teachers who have encouraged and fostered insensitivity with these texts.

My students defended a thesis last year that Jim was the smartest character in Huck Finn, the one with the real wisdom and common sense. They get it. People who want to ban the books don't.

Ellen said...

Maybe if we had taught the REAL meaning of these books we would not of had so much trouble.

I was criticized for wanting to go to ISU one time (100 years ago) to hear a communist or some such speaker. I felt if we didn't know what they were saying how could we disagree.

Not sure this makes any sense but hopefully you understand what I'm saying.

Kathleen said...

I do understand, Ellen. What an irony that in our wonderful land of free speech, someone would criticize you for wanting to hear some.

I remember reading about communism in college political science classes and seeing the beauty in it. It really is beautiful, and very close to Isaiah in the bible. Of course, any political or economic system is susceptible to corruption.

Also, I just re-watched Shadowlands, about C. S. Lewis and his wife Joy Gresham. She spoke of being a communist at a certain period in history (and her life) as the only thing a person of conscience could do! There is social justice in it. As envisioned. Not always as practiced. Likewise, democracy.

Hannah Stephenson said...

Happy to have found your blog, Kathleen! I wandered over from your insightful comment on Nic's most recent post on Very Like a Whale.

Yes, schools banning Huck Finn might as well be a South Park episode. Just because something happens (or language that was contextually-appropriate is problematic for contemporary readers) in a book certainly doesn't mean the author is advocating odd that readers have any trouble separating this!!

Looking forward to reading more.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Hannah, and be sure to tell me what YOU are reading!