We 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 “nigger” 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?