Should schools stop teaching ‘Huck Finn?’ Some NJ lawmakers think so

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Two Democratic lawmakers from New Jersey are calling on the state’s school districts to stop teaching “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in the classroom.

Assembly members Verlina Reynolds-Jackson and Jamel Holley wrote a resolution encouraging New Jersey school officials to remove the 1884 Mark Twain novel from their curriculum due to the novel’s use of racial slurs and racial themes.

But some educators are not entirely on board with this idea.

“The question is: Is [F. Scott] Fitzgerald, is Harper Lee, is Mark Twain endorsing racism or anti-Semitism or are they providing, as great literature does, an interrogation of those ideas?” asks Audrey Fisch, president of the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English.

Fisch, who is an English professor, says that she can see both sides of the argument.

“Part of the issue is the language in ‘Huckleberry Finn’ that it uses the ‘N-word’ repeatedly,” she says.

Reynolds-Jackson and Holley’s resolution states, “in addition to depicting deeply ingrained racial attitudes of the time-- the book liberally uses a highly offensive racial slur more than 200 times throughout its pages."

They go on to say that the book can cause students to feel upset, marginalized or humiliated and could create an uncomfortable atmosphere in the classroom.

But Fisch says that it should be up to each individual school community to make the decision about what to teach.

“Some might argue that ‘Huckleberry Finn’ is an excellent text for us to engage in debate about race and racism and some of the ugly history of our country. For some teachers, for some classrooms, for some students that’s not going to be a comfortable and easy discussion,” says Fisch.

The professor says that there are other texts that teachers can use to replace the novel, but she says that teachers or schools may not be able to afford to buy class sets of those books.

According to the resolution, school districts in Minnesota, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Virginia have already removed the book from the curriculum.

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