Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I Wish I Did Not Have To Teach Huck Finn #EngChat

Ever since I've started teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I've longed for the day that I would not have to teach it any more. It's not because I think it is a terrible book. Actually, I think it is one of the most important pieces of American Literature ever written. I still wish the day would come where I don't have to teach it.

I say this because Huck Finn is a beautifully written piece of satire on race and white society's view of race, and it is still very relevant today. I long for a day that the book is no longer needed to draw parallels to modern society where easy comparisons are made. I hope every year we will get a step closer to viewing the book as an example of the archaic times we used to live. For every year I thought we were a step closer, we took steps back.

A surface reading of the text would have some claim that Huck is a wonderful example of a white person standing up for what is right and protecting Jim, the runaway slave. That is the easy view. It's the view that makes most people feel better about themselves. "Huck can't be racist, he has a black friend!" This is far from the truth. Huck Finn, the character, is racist.

We can have the debate, and we do in class, about whether or not Huck's racist view of the world is his fault or is he just a product of his society. At what point is a person maturation can you no longer claim it is how you were raised? When do you become responsible for your beliefs, and not the beliefs of your mothers or fathers? These are the tough questions we tackle in class because they are still relevant. The minute the book not longer connects to the world we live in, I will happily retire it. Sadly, we are not there yet and I'm not sure when we will get there.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is still a challenged book in this country and that is sad. We need to be having these conversations now more than ever. We need to own our history, discuss it, and look to the future. Twain was not a perfect person, but he wrote a book that still makes every person think about their lives, their privilege, and how we can move to make the world a better place.

I take pride in the fact that I have the honor to help students navigate this text and I hope I can do Mr. Twain's book justice. If I don't, I might be stuck teaching the book until I retire.

Hugs and High Fives,



  1. Could not agree more. I face the same conversations with To Kill a Mockingbird. Thanks for the post.

  2. I am in a teacher education program right now, and we have been learning about forming essential questions for our students to think about. We have been discussing how to form essential questions that are limited enough to keep us grounded in the text, limited enough to be manageable, but also broad enough to never be truly answered, to inspire and uplift the mind to do complex work. The debate you have about Huck in your classroom sounds like it might stem from an essential question- to what extent are we culpable for our own biases? I think, even if we ever manage to weed out the terrible racism so entrenched in our society, that this discussion will always be relevant. I was having a discussion with a friend yesterday about the word "brainwash." Both sides of the political spectrum are calling each other "brainwashed." My friend remarked that we are all brainwashed, really, and I agreed. We are all products of our culture and country and environment in deeply essential ways that we cannot begin to fathom. But we still have to take responsibility for our views. And indeed, our views can still be changed by our choices, by our efforts, by other people. If we aren't culpable for our beliefs, then why are we culpable for the actions that our beliefs drive us to? We must be culpable for both, to some extent. Anyway, I think it's a question that gets to the heart of the discipline of Literature-- I hope to use it in my future classroom one day, with Huck Finn or any book that shows us a flawed protagonist shaped by an imperfect world.


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