North High School - Academics - English Department - A Note about Huckleberry Finn
A note to all members of our GP community:
As an integral selection of our curriculum, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will be studied in American Literature classes. This classic novel is both famous and infamous for its satirical exploration of cultural racism—particularly the frequent use of racist language throughout the text.
We are writing to reassure you that we do not undertake this work or its words lightly. As Twain did, we completely understand how hurtful the language has been in its real-world context. So, before a class attempts this challenging reading experience, your child’s teacher will help students understand the controversy surrounding the novel and the dehumanizing aspect of the racial epithets. A number of resources are used to contextualize the dangerous aspects of this loaded diction, not to desensitize the students to these terms, but rather to sensitize their own awareness of cultural mores and the power of language.
In order to teach the novel in a culturally appropriate and sensitive way, the following will be true of all classrooms where the novel is being considered:
> Teachers will help ALL students name and validate their individual perspectives, attitudes and concerns about the topics, themes and language in the book. Discussions will be aided by one or more of these texts and videos:
60 Minutes—“Huckleberry Finn and the N-word Debate” (2011)
PBS: “Born to Trouble” (2000)
Mildred Taylor, “Speech Accepting the ALAN award.”
> Teachers will outline a clear protocol for the handling of racially-charged language so that ALL students are respected. The protocol will be shared with parents in written communication. Teachers will provide answers to the following student questions:
When reading, will I ever need to read the word aloud?
Will my teacher ever read the word aloud?
When speaking or writing about the text, should I quote racially offensive language, or should I make a substitution? What are acceptable substitutions?
If I ever feel uncomfortable because of the language, what are my options?
> Teachers will balance the classroom experience by supplementing the novel with both classic and contemporary texts/videos that deal satirically and/or straightforwardly with the issues addressed in Huck Finn. These sources feature the perspective of alternate racial and cultural groups in order to widen the perspective on the issues Twain tackles. Teachers will be selective in using part or whole of any number of supplementary materials, teachers will choose at least one from the following:
Black-ish: “The Word” (Season 2) (2015)
Iconoclast: “Dave Chappelle + Maya Angelou” (2006)
High school appropriate segments from satirical programming (e.g. Saturday Night Live)
Selected works by classic writers like Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Frederick Douglass, and works by contemporary writers and scholars like Toni Morrison, Dr. Alan Gribben, Dr. Jocelyn Chadwick, Carol Freedman, Craig Taylor, Paula Leider, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“The Case Against Huck Finn” by John H. Wallace