CBLDF has joined the National Coalition Against Censorship in defending Mark Twain’s seminal classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, after administrators pulled the book from the 11th grade curriculum after a group of students complained that it made them uncomfortable.
CBLDF joins coalition efforts like these to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.
Intended to be taught alongside the Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas, Huck Finn was abruptly pulled when students vocalized their upset over the book’s sensitive subject matter and use of racial slurs. In response to the emotional challenges that the book posed for some students, administrators at Friends’ Central School made the executive decision to simply have it removed from the curriculum instead of taking the opportunity to use the book to facilitate a larger discussion. In a letter to parents, administrators write that they had “come to the conclusion that the community costs of reading this book in 11th grade outweigh the literary benefits.”
As an American classic that touches upon admittedly difficult subjects, Huckleberry Finn has been taught is schools across the United States for decades and received critical acclaim from writers and scholars from all walks of life. As Nobel Prize Laureate Toni Morrison wrote, “The brilliance of Huckleberry Finn is that it is the argument that it raises.” For PEN/Faulkner Award winner David Bradley,
Huckleberry Finn should be taught because it is a seminal and central text in White American Literature. Huckleberry Finn should be taught because it is a seminal and central text in Black American Literature. Huckleberry Finn must be taught because it is a specific point of intersection between these two American Literatures.
Teaching texts like Huckleberry Finn often requires the facilitation of discussions in an academic setting in order to fully grasp the implications of the issues that the book raises. In their letter, NCAC commends the school for allowing students to voice their concerns but cautions administrators about the importance of confronting “historical burdens,” and they ask the school to reverse its decision:
Indeed, at a time of difficult and polarizing conversations about race, it is understandable that a novel which repeatedly uses a highly offensive slur would generate discomfort. But does the discomfort caused by the language or the ambiguities of the novel’s narrative outweigh the value of teaching the book?
Attempts to remove books from schools invariably claim that an idea or image offends or disturbs. But acceding to such demands denies everyone — the students protesting as well as those who would want to read the book — an opportunity to engage with the text in a meaningful way.
NCAC’s letter to Friends’ Central School follows in its entirety.