In a Seattle Post-Intelligencer column from 05 January, John Foley, a high school teacher, proposed that certain novels–The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Of Mice and Men–be removed from school curricula. Mr. Foley’s argument, that “novels that use ‘N-word’ need to go,” presents this line of reasoning:

1) The U. S. A. now has an African-American president.

2) Huckleberry Finn moves too slowly for students “accustomed to fast-paced everything.” Moreover, Twain employs a dialect that students might find “every bit as challenging as Shakespeare’s Old English.” [Shakespeare’s Old English?]

3) Contextualizing the usage of the “N-word” is a “daunting challenge,” and Mr. Foley dreads the idea of explaining such derogatory language to a predominantly African-American class or to an angry African-American mother.

4) To Kill a Mockingbird is behind the times: Mr. Foley notes that Atticus Finch directs Scout “not to use the N-word because it’s ‘common.’ That might’ve been an enlightened attitude for a Southerner during the Great Depression, but is hopelessly dated now.”

5) Ditto for Of Mice and Men. Mr. Foley suggests that teachers replace Steinbeck’s novel with a Vietnam-era work because “the Vietnam War is a more recent — and arguably more painful — era in American history than the Depression, and one of more interest to teens.”

While I understand Mr. Foley’s assertion that objectionable language and situations create uncomfortable teaching situations, I don’t quite see how he arrives at his conclusions because, unfortunately, Mr. Foley undermines his argument by suggesting such replacement texts as Snow Falling on Cedars, Lonesome Dove, and Going After Cacciato, each of which features racist language akin to, and at times including, the “N-word.”

The comments following the article are well worth perusing (several readers suggest that Mr. Foley intends his column as satire. I’m not sure I buy it).

Author: Jacqueline A. Pollard

City Walker. Photo-taker. Lit PhD.

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