Mark Twain’s fictional account of runaway Huckleberry Finn has come under fire before for its use of the N-word; however, one Philadelphia high school recently took an especially vocal stance in allegedly censoring the English-class staple.
After hearing some complaints from an unspecified number of students, administrators at Philadelphia’s Friends’ Central School opted to remove Huckleberry Finn from the 11th-grade curriculum. In a statement, the school asserted that “the community costs of reading this book … outweigh the literary benefits.”
Parents learned of the decision in a letter from school officials, which confirmed that they had received complaints that some students found the book’s text “challenging.”
Apparently agreeing that an education should not be challenging, administrators quickly relegated the troublesome tome to a library shelf. Replacing it on school curricula will be Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
Though some, including the ALA’s Deborah Caldwell-Stone, consider such a move to be censorship, Friends’ Central School Principal Art Hall disagreed.
“I do not believe that we’re censoring,” he said. “I really do believe that this is an opportunity for the school to step forward and listen to the students.”
Caldwell-Stone, however, noted that since there is much to be learned from a novel like Finn, removing it as assigned reading is a disservice to students. She seems to be in good company with her book review, as Ernest Hemingway once identified it as the source of “all modern American literature.”
Of course, as The Guardian’s Alison Flood noted, this is hardly the first time the novel — dubbed by the American Library Association as the “most-challenged of all time” — has been declared unfit for reader consumption.
While early criticism revolved around the book’s base content, recent generations have bemoaned the conversational use of the N-word.
Some subsequent editions have attempted to steer clear of this controversy by replacing the offending word — in all 200-plus uses –with ‘slave.’