6 November 2002
Okay, you've got an English class to teach, more literary than grammatical this semester, and one of the books you have to cover is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What's first on your list of things you need to make this work? Enough copies to go around? Tom Sawyer as a prerequisite? If you're in Portland, Oregon, at the very top of the list is, of all things, sensitivity training. That whirring sound you hear is Samuel Langhorne Clemens, subterranean pinwheel.
How in the world did we ever get to this sorry state? Erin O'Connor explains:
Literature teachers and literary "theorists" have long used (I mean used) literature to further a distinctly left-leaning multicultural agenda to study English in school today is to become sensitized to how literature has historically been an instrument of both power and resistance; it is to absorb the etiquette of "diversity" by way of as the truth of literary history. It is to "learn" about oppression. Huck Finn is a favorite stomping ground for English teachers who use literature to stage politicized discussions about the various -isms; assessing the quality and caliber of the novel's "racism" has become something of a pedagogical sport in recent years as if pejoratively labelling a work of art were an act of interpretation, as if stroking our enlightened egos at Twain's expense could even begin to do justice to the complexity and enormity of his deceptively simple little novel.
It's not just Twain's expense, either; to the extent that our children are herded through this "multicultural" charnel-house, they are deprived of the opportunity to make up their own minds, to learn how to decide for themselves what a book like Huckleberry Finn indeed, any book really means.
(Muchas gracias: John Rosenberg.)
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