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26 January 2009


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Dude, what kind of English teacher thinks that Shakespeare wrote in Old English? Capitalized no less.


"Even if Huck Finn didn't contain the N-word and demeaning stereotypes, it would remain a tough sell to students accustomed to fast-paced everything."

Now, I taught high school English, once in the dawning mists of time. And it was not the brilliant exchange of literary ideas that I thought it would be, but what the heck, I was three and a half years older than my students (many of whom had been held back) and we were doing basic stuff like "what is a verb" because they'd messed around so much being truant and didn't know anything.


I still don't agree.


Some commenters on the editorial you cited seem to believe that the article was written satirically. Interesting. Not knowing the local attitudes re: the N-word in books and/or book banning, it's hard to say. If it WERE a satire, I would assume he would be aiming it at the audience who have called for the banning of those books. And, sadly, the message is probably not getting through. Seems kind of odd to aim a subtle editorial at people who might not pick up on it. Although, I suppose Swift did it and it became a classic.

If it is not a satire, well...certainly I would think he has some authority over what he teaches in his own English class, but I for one do not think that novels written by contemporary authors which merely address the same time period as the classics he cites can have the same impact as those written during the time period itself. History class is revisionist enough. Let kids read the classics, warts and all.

Um, just my two cents. Who knew I had an opinion on this matter?!

A Paperback Writer

So, if we follow Mr. Foley's logic, then we'd have to get rid of Shakespeare, too, because, after all, there's that whole Merchant of Venice problem with Jews. And Othello -- even though he is a tragic hero and even though the n-word wasn't around in Shakespeare's day -- is the brunt of some pretty nasty racial slurs (black ram tupping a white ewe... etc.).
And we'd have to get rid of Tolkien. Sure, there are no Africans in LOTR, but the darker-skinned peoples are always portrayed as being less noble than the lighter-skinned ones.
Geez, we'd better throw out Uncle Tom's Cabin, too. And probably Beloved. Y'know, they show slaves as ignorant and supersticious.
Gosh, while we're at it, let's just throw out everything and let Mr. Foley write us a bunch of new, enlightened books that don't allow kids to see how much we've grown and how we've changed.
I hope my sarcasm is coming through here.
Wasn't it Santayana who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"?
I want MY students to remember the past. I'm keeping those books around.


CC: I'm glad you pointed that out -- I totally missed it the first time through due to my surprise at everything else in the essay. Excellent!

Lexi: Yeah, I saw those comments as well, but at the author's blog, there's a post about the responses he's gotten from people about the essay -- and it doesn't sound like it was written satirically. His take on the uproar seems to be that many of the people who disagree with him are just against change. (Granted, he's referring to the people who aren't giving him any sort of argument other than: "You can't get rid of Huck Finn!")

Anyway, I'm certainly not against mixing things up in high school English classes, trying different books, introducing modern classics, etc... but the essayist's reasons for wanting to do so were what didn't work for me -- as A Paperback Writer said above, if you start chucking books because they can be viewed as offensive, at the end of the day, you aren't going to have anything to read.

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