I wanted to practice satire and the Virginia Department of Education provided a writing prompt….
To: State of Virginia
I suspect that some schools in Virginia are still making The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn available to students in school libraries. This book was banned soon after publication in 1885, and I think continued scrutiny is justified.
I fear that the depiction of racism in this book might make some children uncomfortable. I remember being disturbed when my fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Break, read this book to us in class. The book uses racial slurs and depicts cruel actions of white slave owners. It also shows Jim, Huck’s partner in crime, as a man of good character even though he is an escaped slave. Our children should not have to deal with conflicting ideas of this nature.
Since, as an adult, I still remember my teacher reading this book to our class, you can see that I experienced an emotional response to the text, and it still disturbs me today. An added concern is that Mark Twain is known to express opinions not in keeping with traditional societal ideals and norms.
I think The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be investigated to see if it’s appropriate for our fragile young learners.
I participated in two library materials challenges during my twenty-plus years as a school principal. Both involved the use of sub-standard English in the dialogue. Our schools had a written process in place for challenging books or materials. A committee of educators and parents reviewed the books in question and made recommendations. Since the dialogue in these books was consistent with the characters speaking, both were recommended for the library. Parent input was significant in making these decisions.
We found books that might not be age-appropriate on several occasions and referred them to our middle school or high school. Educators exercised professional judgment in purchasing books for the library and classrooms with limited funds. Educators included books that challenged readers to think as appropriate for the ages and development of the students.
The state of Virginia seems poised to override the local control of educational materials for their children by instituting a hotline system for reporting any books or materials of concern. The Virginia Dept. of Ed. has a website and phone number just like the Arkansas Dept. of Ed., but the news release accompanying their new hotline indicated its purpose. A complaint goes to the state level without involving the local school and board members.
Virginia’s hotline motivated me to write the short satirical letter above. I probably shouldn’t send it since they’re likely take me seriously.
Jim Warnock, Retired Educator