Thursday, January 06, 2011

I spent the afternoon at a professional development meeting, part of my consulting. At the end, a teacher who was seated next to me mentioned Huck Finn being censored to strip out the N-word. I had noticed a story link somewhere on that subject this morning, but did not have time to read it, and so I thought there has been discussion of editing the book, not that the sanitized version will actually be published. You might say that I am a big fan of Mark Twain, almost obsessively so, in fact. I immediately reacted negatively, without thinking. Not that thinking it through would change my reaction, just that when I am in my professional role, particularly when wearing my consultant hat, I always filter what I say very carefully. She said "I can see both sides" and so I didn't elaborate much. I guess I can too, but I still am annoyed by the editing. How dare you?

When I got home, I noticed several articles and blog posts on the subject. Commentary about the editing is mixed. Many are offended, as I am. Some think it is no big deal. It strikes me that it is one more nuance of the language of cultural disrespect, which I wrote about after being called the C-word in comments. A response to the Heslep article that I wrote about is from Wagner (1996) in Tolerance and Intolerance: Gricean Intention and Doing Right by our Students: we should all lighten up until we understand speaker intentions. Twain wasn't insulting African Americans, quite the opposite, in fact. Is there a scholar who disagrees that Huck Finn is one of the most important pieces of American literature? That its impact was profound and positive? We think we know better than Twain how to engage audiences? That sanitizing his language will make his writing better? So we need to baby students and avoid challenge, because they are sensitive and stupid? Or are we just too lazy to really make an effort and teach?

It's interesting to me too that I just wrote about reading Twain's autobiography this intercession. It was the #2 bestseller recently. He continues to make the news 100 years after his death!

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