Controversy from Cover to Cover

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Controversy from Cover to Cover

Haley Seymour, Editor-In-Training

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Many juniors at BFA have just finished reading and discussing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

At BFA, it is required that American Literature teachers have their students read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. However, some schools banned the book due to racial content.

Larissa Hebert, AP Language and Composition and American Literature teacher, strongly believes that schools should teach students controversial literature, especially The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

“In terms of the literature that I teach, I don’t think they should be banned, but it’s the responsibility of the educator to inform students about why certain words and/or content is present in the text, and how it is reflecting a certain period of time. If they just have the students dive into the book, that’s where it could be problematic,” Hebert said.

Before Hebert begins teaching her students The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, she prefaces the controversial words and ideas, such as the often use of the “n-word”. Hebert has her students read many articles and watch several videos about how racism plays a role in the book.

Hebert shows her students a video in the 60 Minutes segment from CBS. This video, called “Huckleberry Finn and the N-word” contains interviews with students and teachers about how they feel about the potentially-offensive language. Different students and teachers have different opinions, making it a neutral source.

Hebert also shows her students a discussion by writers at the New York Times about why the book uses certain language, the pros and cons of reading the book, and how different people react to it. Hebert educates her students about the book, as well as offering a preface, in order to make them more comfortable.

There is an alternative version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that changes the racial slur to the word “slave”. Teachers at other schools usually offer one version or the other, and Hebert thinks the original should be taught.

“I think it should be an option for students who might feel uncomfortable encountering a word, but I don’t think that we should pull the text out and replace it with the revised edition,” Hebert said.

Hebert believes that students at BFA benefit from learning about these books and the historical past of the United States.

“Pros are maybe to see how we’ve made progress in our country, and also maybe where we’ve not made progress, and how it’s still current, like race relations. Also the view of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and why it has been a controversial book since it was first published, and how it has changed. It helps us to understand our past as Americans through a narrative,” Hebert said.

Peter Jones, librarian at BFA, does not think students should read revised editions of literature.

“No, that’s changing the book,” Jones said.

Jones also does not consider The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and other books taught at BFA to be controversial.

“I don’t think [The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn] is controversial, so I think it should just be part of the curriculum. If a parent has a concern, then the parent should address it with the teacher and find a way around it,” Jones said.

According to the American Library Association, 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982; including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, All Quiet on the Western Front, etc. All of those books are taught at BFA.

Banned Books Week was created in 1982 to resist suppression and promote freedom of reading. People for the American Way Foundation sponsors this event and wants to advocate for the diverse ideas found in books, as well as the ability for people to make their own choices through reading.

Jones explained how he has only experienced one book being challenged at BFA.

“We had one called TTYL, literally that’s the title. They were books written in text-speak, and a parent felt that the subject matter was inappropriate. However, the school supported us keeping the books because they were for grades eight through ten, and the student was a ninth grader, so we kept the books,” Jones said.

TTYL by Lauren Myracle is seen as controversial through some school’s eyes due to possible racism and offensive language, according to the American Library Association. This book is banned at some schools and has been a part of Banned Books Week.

Jones believes that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, however not everything is truly “controversial” just because it contradicts someone’s beliefs.

“I don’t really think of it as controversial literature, I think of it as something that someone else might not necessarily like. Like, Harry Potter is banned because if you don’t believe in magic, then that’s the devil. So, I would never think of Harry Potter as controversial; so many of these topics are your own opinion and everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Jones said.

Jones appreciates the idea of Banned Books Week, and has a poster of a list of books hanging in the Library.

“I think that we should definitely shine a spotlight on the idea that some places pull certain books off the shelves, and that we are fortunate that we do have Harry Potter here, as well as The Bible,” Jones said.

Jones does not think books should be banned in schools, but he does think schools should have age-appropriate books, as BFA does.

“It’s not our job to tell you what not to read. But, we’re never going to have 50 Shades of Grey, just because that’s an adult book, that doesn’t belong in a high school,” Jones said.

Hebert agrees with the allowing of books.

“I hear schools pulling books from curriculum and it saddens me. Personally, I think there is something to be learned. It’s like the 60 Minutes documentary we watched; life is uncomfortable and painful and if you can’t get through that, what better way than in literature, where it’s some other way to learn about it,” Hebert said.