Huck Finn question for English teachers

Discussion in 'High School' started by ambritlit, Mar 24, 2008.

  1. ambritlit

    ambritlit Companion

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    Mar 24, 2008

    How do you handle the N-word in class discussions and reading? We are starting this book next week, and I feel the need to set some parameters before we begin. I already have some African American students asking why we are reading this, etc... I plan on addressing these concerns to the best of my ability, but I sense that some kids are already digging in their heels to turn this into a racial issue.

    I've already told them, that just as we may come across other offensive words in literature, this is no excuse to use those words. Should I just not say it and not allow anyone else to say it?

    I don't mean to sound dense, it's just that it's my first year and I'd never want to offend any of my students.
     
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  3. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    Mar 24, 2008

    You could discuss with them the fact that books written during a certain time period reflected what was going on during that time. Would you have them use a substitute word in its place? Have you asked your department chair or admin?
     
  4. ambritlit

    ambritlit Companion

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    Mar 24, 2008

    Thanks. I haven't discussed with anyone at school yet. I guess I wanted to act like I know the proper thing to do! We are on spring break this week, and I'm planning the lessons now. I will ask, though.
     
  5. INteacher

    INteacher Aficionado

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    Mar 24, 2008

    I am not an English teacher but I am certain that Mark Twain used the N word as a commentary of the times - civil war had free the slaves but not really changed for freed slaves in the south. Maybe do some research on why Mark Twain wrote Huck Finn, the reaction of the public to the book when published, the many movements to ban Huck from schools, and present this prior to reading the novel.
     
  6. jbj913

    jbj913 Rookie

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    Mar 24, 2008

    Yes, a history lesson may be in order. Remind the students WHEN this is written and how it was reflecting the times. Remind how progress is needed and needed to improve society.
    Also, nip it in the bud on the whole "justifying the use of certain words just because it's in a book."
    My belief is those types of words can be used in teaching a context, but it needs to be stressed that it is being used in context and not justification for general use.
     
  7. bluelightstar

    bluelightstar Companion

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    Mar 24, 2008

    We don't read that word out loud in class, and all my students are black anyway (as am I). They tend to replace bad words with humorous substitutes, like "donkey" for the a-word. The first time we encountered the n-word, they decided to use "ninja." But I'm not sure that's appropriate, so I stopped it. :)
     
  8. Noggin

    Noggin Rookie

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    Mar 24, 2008

    Completely agree. Start with why it is there to begin with- is it just acceptable language of the time or is it a social commentary that was even trying to be offensive in the books own publishing time? Explain either how it isn't acceptable in society or the classroom (or both) today and decide if you just want them to skip it or substitute something for it.

    In my class, we've completely skipped the truly offensive words- like the N-word. We just read and respond as if they weren't there after explaining why they were. I was worried they'd pick up using the substitute as a way to be hurtful between classes without getting in trouble. Not sure if it would have happened or not since I never allowed it, but sticking with my current course since it's working. :)

    For curse words that aren't appropriate for class but are commonly used and aren't really in the massively offensive category (like the B-word), they usually substitute something silly or completely opposite like honey-bunny or cupcake. Sometimes the substitutions are too funny when they get tossed into the middle of a serious reading. :D
     
  9. ambritlit

    ambritlit Companion

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    Mar 25, 2008

    Thanks for all of your suggestions. I am planning on introducing the book with a discussion of history/slavery/social commentary/censorship. I was mainly trying to decide how to handle the actual reading of the word, whether we should skip in reading or what.
     
  10. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

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    Mar 25, 2008

    My kids always want to replace it with Ninja, too.

    Before I start reading, I give them some background about the book and a little about WHY Mark Twain was writing this book, what points he was trying to make. I make sure they understand that HE was not racist, but that he was using the word to make a point about racism. Otherwise, they always think he was in the KKK or something. After we have the discussion, I usually let the individual students decide whether they will read it, like I do with other curse words in any book. But I make sure to tell them that he put those words in for a purpose, so if any student of any race chooses to read them or not, we won't judge them for that. I personally read them (I am white) if I am reading out loud, and make the point that I am just reading someone else's words.
     
  11. Mrs. R.

    Mrs. R. Connoisseur

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    Mar 25, 2008

    I'm reading Huck Finn with my GATE 7th graders right now. When we started the book, we reviewed what was going on in US History at the time the book was set, humorous devices (satire, hyperbole, etc), and the usage of that particular word. We talked about censorship and the fact that this is one of the most censored books in the US.
    I decided to do much what silverspoon does. If I'm reading an excerpt from the book, I read the word. They can or not, depending on how they feel. They have asked me if they could use the word in some writing assignments we're doing in conjunction with our novel study, and I said no. I just didn't want to open any of those doors.
     

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