I waited a couple days before commenting on my January 6 post, “Serious or Satire?”, but now I feel I should provide my opinion.
I think Foley must be seriously recommending the elimination of novels using negative terms about African-Americans. If his intent is satire, it’s entirely too subtle. Thus, I wholeheartedly disagree with his arguments.
First, eliminating a piece of literature because it includes derogatory terms is a slippery slop to banning almost anything objectionable. What’s to stop people from eliminating Shakespeare’s plays, The Grapes of Wrath, The Color Purple, The Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World, and more.
I particularly find the elimination of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn especially ludicrous since Twain specifically used language accurate for the time. Change the voice and language, then much of the intent, charm, and originality is lost. Besides, Jim is the heart of the novel; he is the moral center. His ignorance plays a major role in Twain’s intent, and the language used in reference to African-Americans is supposed to disgust and show society’s hypocrisy. Also, the treatment of Jim by the Phelps family is a particularly sharply biting situation showing society’s hypocrisy towards African-Americans. (On a separate note, I would argue that Huck has not learned at the novel’s end as much as people suggest.)
Plus, eliminating literature because of its age is once again ridiculous in my mind. I have never had difficulties getting the vast majority of my students to enjoy (or at least appreciate) The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Beowulf, and works of the 1800s (Hawthorne, Dickens, Poe, etc.). However, I do think we could do a better job of connecting literature of the past to the present. There may be ways for including more contemporary texts, introducing different mediums, or incorporating technology to create new forms of literature.
Now, in Mr. Foley’s defense he does say students should read these texts but not as part of the regular, required curriculum. He obviously sees value in the literature but does not want students to have to read it. I would again disagree because of the cultural literacy (yes, classical and canonical literacy) society expects of our educated adults. While some do not believe cultural literacy should be a consideration, I do. It may not be the only factor but I believe it should be an influence.
Students do have shorter attention spans and are more easily distracted, but this does not necessarily mean a change in literature to something more fast-paced is the answer. In truth, I have always felt that the way we ask students to read and for what purposes plays a larger role than what the students read. My goal is to entice the students into having a conversation with the text, to discover how they personally relate to the literature, and to identify modern day connections.
Lastly, I believe history is not to be avoided or sugar-coated; in my view, it should be confronted and challenged. Let’s show the students every wart, pimple, scar, and blemish our history (through literature) has to offer. This is also my problem with how I was taught history through my social studies and literature classes; I only got the romanticized versions along with the facts and dates. There was nothing to make history and literature come alive or to make the past interesting; all of our forefathers were perfect and then I memorized 1492, 1776, 1812, 1849, 1865, 1914, 1945, and so on. I became much like Huck Finn in high school: “I don’t take no stock in dead people.”
I could probably go on a lot longer, but it’s late and I’m tuckered. What do you think about Foley’s article?