Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Huck Finn Controversy Again

A junior at Richland High School in Fort Worth, Texas, who is described as being black and Muslim, was offended recently when a teacher, in an introductory unit on Huckleberry Finn, printed the N-word – the whole word - on the board (along with other words that were expected to evoke emotion). This led to the formation by several groups of “activists” of the “Coalition to Stop the N-Word”. Almost everything about the story is predictable - except for the main outcome. The “activists” made the usual demands, including eliminating the use of the book, but after a long meeting, which school superintendent Stephen Waddell described as “cordial and very productive,” there had been a dramatic turnabout. We don’t know much about what was said, but it would seem that the good Superintendent actually made arguments, and that they were effective. Writing in the Star-Telegram, Bob Ray Sanders reports that Waddell had been reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, another book taught in the school. “Waddell pointed out that Hurston’s book also was filled with usage of that word and asked whether banning Twain would naturally lead to banning Hurston’s and many other books by blacks and Hispanics that often end up on the list of most-protested works in the country.” After the meeting, the “activists” no longer demanded the removal of the book, “as they thought it was a book from which blacks and whites could learn.” Very productive, indeed; and congratulations to the folks in Fort Worth who reached this sensible conclusion.

Discussions - 2 Comments

The freedom to read and stock a book should not depend on the recognition of anyone's ability, let alone the ability of any particular group, to "learn from it." That's not how we judge liberty.

Indeed, not. Still, it is progress when a person is persuaded that he or she has something to learn, especially when we are talking about the sort of "activists" involved here.

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