Many teachers religiously teach Huckleberry Finn and many other American classics. I couldn't remember if I had ever read it before, and thought that maybe I should read it in order to participate in those scholarly discussions that literature teachers love to have.
My people, I started reading it and was not feeling it at all. However, there have been many books that did not grab my attention right away, but I fell madly in love with them as I continued to read. So, I kept plugging away at Huckleberry Finn. After five weeks and only getting to chapter three or four, I decided to give it up.
First of all it is boring. The storyline nor the language is captivating. The ’N’ word seems to be used unnecessarily. I have no problem with the use of the ’N’ word in literature if it is trying to convey some type of message. However, in Huckleberry Finn, it seems to be used just to be used.
After I finally decided that I would give this book up, I have thought a lot about this book, the literary canon, White superiority, high school students, and culturally relevant text.
I need to ask these rhetorically questions: Why or do folks love Huckleberry Finn? Are there people who pick this book up to read for pleasure, or did people EVER do that? Was it ever relevant?
Who actually decided what books should be in the literary canon? I wonder if it was the same type of folks who wrote The Constitution of the United States and decided that my people and I were not quite human? The Constitution has been amended several times, and I am wondering why we have not amended or abandoned the entire idea of a literary canon?
There are soooooo many awesome books out there; I can not even began to imagine trying to narrow down all the wonderful books to one list that everyone must read or die trying.... But if I had to select a few books that I think everyone should read before he/she dies I would select Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, In Darkness by Rick Lake, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs, Between the World and Me and The Beautiful Struggle by Te-Nehisi Coates. However, if you asked one thousand other people, you would more than likely get one thousand different answers, and who would actually be correct?
Schools have been teaching books like Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and the Great Gatsby as the American Classics. But do you notice what they all have in common? All White main characters, written by White people, and most of these books do not have characters of color. So, if schools have mainly been focusing on these types of books forever, isn’t this placing more value on White folks stories, and basically sending a subliminal message that other folks stories, Native Americans and African American etc. stories, really ain’t part of the American story. And, if we have been sending this message forever, isn’t it about time that schools and the country make a conscious shift to be more inclusive and to give every American story value.
"I, Too, Sing America"
by Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,”
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--
I, too, am America.
Now, I believe that even if a student comes to high school with a love of reading, I think that the high school curriculum turns many students off.... Many stop reading, many read what the teacher assigns and read for pleasure on their free time, and some try and try and try to read those assigned books thinking that they will be let in on some type of secret that will help them to fall in love with the American classics and live happily ever after.
However, I am proposing that high schools give students more choice or complete choice in what they read. That teachers find a way to convey their love for reading by actually talking about books, visiting the school or public libraries, having writers come into the classroom, or even skyping with authors. I know there is a place for rigor, diversity, and a love for reading in the high school classroom.
My people, there are so many culturally relevant text out there.... Text that will make students fall in love with reading, and stories, and cultures, and people. And, I believe that there is a place in today’s classroom for text that actually interest students.
So, My People, I would never deny a student the opportunity to read Huckleberry Finn, but I definitely would never make it a required reading in my classroom.....
One day, if I just can’t find anything else to read, I may try Huckleberry Finn again. It’s been read for years; it must be great right? (Inserts sarcasm!)