Virginian School Removes Huck Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird After Complaints Over Racial Slurs From A Parent

th-1th-2We have previously discussed the banning of masterpieces due to contemporary objections to language or content. It is an assault on classic works that threaten the foundation for education in our country. A recent decision from a Virginia school to temporarily remove “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain and “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee is a tragic case in point. The school reportedly pulled the books after a parent said her high school-age son was negatively affected by the inclusion of racial slurs in the books, which deal with racism in those periods.

The parent insisted that her concerns as a biracial parent are “not even just a black and white thing.” Rather, she is quoted as saying at a Nov. 15 school board meeting:

“I keep hearing, ‘This is a classic, This is a classic,’ … I understand this is a literature classic. But at some point, I feel that children will not — or do not — truly get the classic part — the literature part, which I’m not disputing. This is great literature. But there (are so many) racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that.”

The point is that it is all “the literature part.” Part of education is precisely to “get past” racial slurs to understand the period and the work. The use of terms like “ni**er” are clearly offensive but they were used widely in the period. Even modern movies and books include the word are part of an authentic dialogue in exploring such issues.

The mother however asked “So what are we teaching our children? We’re validating that these words are acceptable, and they are not acceptable by (any) means. There is other literature they can use.” No, we are not “validating” the words but learning for works that reflect accurately the lexicon and prejudices of the period. We can certainly sanitize reading to eliminate such classics, but the loss would fall on a generation that is being denied such foundational works to shield them from the prejudices of these periods.

What do you think?

59 thoughts on “Virginian School Removes Huck Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird After Complaints Over Racial Slurs From A Parent”

  1. What’s more interesting is this is happening on the Eastern Shore of Virginia which exists as much in a time warp as just about anywhere in the Continental 48 states. I read the local coverage which is not very good since there is no local daily newspaper on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the area is at the extremes of Television coverage from both Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland and the Metropolitan Norfolk area. I still can’t figure out what really prompted it or whether the parent behind the complaint was serious or seeking attention. The last major news story in Accomac County was a several year long string of arson’s which had everybody guessing and seeking the culprits and was treated almost like a game. Locally I haven’t seen any significant response or interest. I once read an Irish author who made the observation that the further down a Peninsula you go the more “unique” the people become. Certainly applies to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The area has a significant African America Population which is among the oldest and most stratified in the Country and Blacks and Whites tend to live in and interact with their own communities taking care of their own issues. The area is not know for racial strife. There has probably been more discussion here on this site than there has been locally, maybe somebody down there got around to actually reading Huck Finn for the first time.

  2. The former darling of the left, Harper Lee, became persona non grata after Go Set a Watchman was published. I like both books.

  3. I agree 100% with the Virginia shcool’s decision to ban Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.” In fact, I believe the school needs to go further and ban ALL books. Books only make people miserable and they cause people to take on viewpoints deemed objectionable by our leadership.

    Wait a minute, Ray Bradbury even recommended this idea in his novel, Fahrenheit 451! I realize that Bradbury’s novel was a futuristic depiction of the idea, but there’s no good reason for delaying it right now. And for those of you who believe Fahrenheit 451 should also be banned, I fully understand that too. So here are some video clips of Francois Truffaut’s vision of the novel.

    Our children and our childrens’ children deserve a better world than one in which difference ideas are expressed that don’t conform with the wishes of our authoritarian leaders. This movie expresses the direction we should take. Thank you.

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  5. Literature is supposed to disturb, to unsettle, to challenge, to provoke thought, discussion, and an exchange of ideas. This is just one more example of an attempt to wrap young people up in cotton wool and provide them with a safe (insert unchallenged) life. Without such challenges, there can be no cognitive nor emotional growth.

    Totally aside that the books were pulled based on the complaint of a single parent, made the demand not just for her own child, but for all the other students in the school.

    1. SierraRose – I have been to the Tom Sawyer Cave which is accurately described in the book. In fact, seeing the cave, made the end of Tom Sawyer make more sense.

  6. Here’s another book (pamphlet) for them to ban:

    “The Law and Education
    You say: “There are persons who lack education,” and you turn to the law. But the law is not, in itself, a torch of learning which shines its light abroad. The law extends over a society where some persons have knowledge and others do not; where some citizens need to learn, and others can teach. In this matter of education, the law has only two alternatives: It can permit this transaction of teaching-and-learning to operate freely and without the use of force, or it can force human wills in this matter by taking from some of them enough to pay the teachers who are appointed by government to instruct others, without charge. But in this second case, the law commits legal plunder by violating liberty and property.”

    The Law, by Frederic Bastiat

  7. It is clear the mother has never read either book or she would not make the complaint. Both are exceptional books in the literature of the United States.

    1. Well that’s what I thought. My son studied that book last year and we discussed it at great length as he wrote his paper. Just as Karen points out above–when ignorance in a society runs this deep, we’re all in trouble.

  8. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by no means legitimized the prejudice of the time. It was a David and Goliath story of Atticus Finch fighting against the overwhelming bigotry of an era, with a tom boy protagonist and a mad protector to boot. It broke through all stereotypes.

    So, I suppose Shakespeare is out because of the Merchant of Venice discussed the prevalent anti-semitism of the time, the Taming of the Shrew was anti-feminist, and Romeo and Juliet was about two love struck teenagers disobeying their families and committing suicide for love. And Plato is out because he discussed slavery. The Art of War discussed actives that are against the Geneva Convention and contained multiple triggers. Aesop’s Fables, having been written by a former slave, are obviously out. Plus, their stories contain plot lines that do not include rigorous worker protections or equality for women.

    So what’s left? Are Rolling Stone articles sufficiently modernized literature? Poor journalistic integrity won’t matter. It’s language and culture will be “clean.”

    I was recently talking to someone I know from Ukraine. He’d never heard of Aesop’s fables, or any of the classics I’d read in school. He said that the USSR restricted what literature was available to the people. They wanted to control what kids learned and how they thought. Any classic literature that would have led to introspection or critical thought would not have been encouraged. He thought Aesop’s Fables were an American collection of stories, and regretted not having read The Greek Moralist.

    Just think, if we apply ourselves, we, too, might produce high school graduates who have never heard of the classics that are the cornerstone of literature.

    1. Good post Karen. This inability for people to critically think might one day lead to a culture that believes ALL rights are alienable.

    2. KarenS, You are a superb voice here and would make a great weekend contributor.

  9. “Whether it is conservatives harping about immorality or liberals whining about sensitivity, the root is the same: cowardice.”

    Cowardice IS NOT teaching morality because you lack a spine to plant your flag in what you believe is truth. Cowardice IS NOT teaching people how to NOT internalize every slight as a threat to their very existence.

    The root is not cowardice but ignorance. The latter begets the former.

  10. We don’t teach our children anything by hiding uncomfortable things from them. Whether it is conservatives harping about immorality or liberals whining about sensitivity, the root is the same: cowardice. Americans need to toughen up, face the fact that ignorance feeds so much of our domestic strife, and cloaking uncomfortable truths leads to suspicion, misunderstanding and, ironically, heightened conflict.

  11. One person?? Hate it when one person can ruin a program for EVERYONE. That is the problem today. Don’t let that parent go to Rome where the statues are nude… pretty sad!!

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