Recently Friends Central, a Suburban Philadelphia private Quaker High School removed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its teaching curriculum. The school said the book, with its wide use of the N-word, made some of its students uncomfortable. The school went on to say it thought removal was not censorship but rather a testament to listening “to our students”. Hmmm.
Any school’s teaching curriculum can only be so big. All the possible important pieces of literature cannot be included, simply due to teaching time. So one must assume that Friends Central had included the classic Huck Finn for an academic reason. To remove it because some students felt uncomfortable must raise eyebrows. Aren’t students in school to learn from those who presumably have the benefit of greater knowledge and experience?
Huck Finn is considered important because it describes a segregated America which current white generation have not experienced. While the text may make some African American students uncomfortable, do these students (and their adult supporters) recognize that Huck Finn does not endorse segregation. Rather Mark Twain uses the book in an attempt to open the minds of white Americans to a period of insensitivity and hypocrisy. Hmmm.
This past year has also seen a number of college protests (Missouri, Ithaca College, Virginia Commonwealth, Yale for examples) where African American students have alleged school policies were not inclusive enough and racial insensitivity made them feel uncomfortable. Some of these “uncomfortable” situations lead to the resignation of senior Administrators. These incidents, however, differ markedly from removing a classic text from the curriculum. The college incidents involved the overall learning environment while the Friends Central involved learning materials.
Feeling uncomfortable in the learning process is a natural by-product of education. Feeling uncomfortable in a social setting is not a necessary condition. Improving the University level social setting could spell a more productive learning environment. At the end of the day, however, the burden to learn still falls back to the student.
Feeling uncomfortable with the teaching curriculum begs the question of whether the material was academically worthy in the first place. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has a well established reputation.
If Friends Central felt there was a book more important than Huck Finn and used the new book to replaced Finn in the curriculum, the decision could be tested on the basis of academic merit. Removing a book for “comfort” reasons begs the question of whether Friends Central has “dumbed down” its curriculum in an effort to achieve comfort.
Is that what learning is about?