Friday, January 7, 2011

Mockingbirds Make Easy Targets

Move over Harper Lee, no room for you now. And Mark Twain, an abolitionist though you may be, your works are simply not politically correct enough. According to John Foley’s article, “Time to Update Schools’ Reading Lists”, the American classics “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” are now obsolete in the classroom. Foley claims that these works should not be used in the high school curriculum because the dialect and pace is too slow and challenging for students, some of the vernacular used is offensive nowadays, and that now that Obama is president, it is time to make radical changes to the books students are made to read. He helpfully suggests several books too. I disagree strongly with Foley because I don’t think we should accommodate ignorance, Foley seems to have a poor understanding of the books, and that Obama’s election should rather inspire students to read these rather than hinder them.

Foley demands that “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Of Mice and Men”, and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” be removed from our schools’ reading lists. He graciously adds that we should keep them in the various libraries (because we know how much high school students read on their own) but that they must immediately be eliminated from the curriculum. He promptly informs the reader that both “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” consistently use the N-word and demeaning stereotypes. He also says that Huck Finn is too slow and challenging for high school students to read and that explaining that the authors didn’t mean to be offensive is a task much too daunting. He comments that in “Mockingbird” that much of Atticus’ reasoning of why we shouldn’t be prejudiced is outdated. He gives a list of books that should replace the classics and remarks that his arguments are only common sense.

Frankly, the mind boggles at this display of idiocy and ignorance on behalf of politically correct slugs. Though Foley goes on and on about the offensiveness of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” he doesn’t say a peep about why “Of Mice and Men” should be removed. Foley complains that “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is too slow for students. “…it would remain a tough sell to students accustomed to fast-paced everything. The novel meanders along slower than the Mississippi River and uses a Southern dialect every bit as challenging as Shakespeare’s Old English.” (Foley 1) This comment causes me to wonder why the dickens we are accommodating ignorance rather than striving to overcome it. I’m sure that students are accustomed to a ‘fast-paced everything.’ I’m also sure that given their way, they’d write their papers as if texting a message on their cell phone. It’d be more ‘fast-paced’, wouldn’t it? Last time I checked, school was for learning, learning even when it was challenging and slow.

Foley also whines that Huck Finn contains the N-word and demeaning stereotypes. He says the same thing about “To Kill a Mockingbird”, puling that one of the main protagonists Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout not to use the N-word only because it’s common. Foley conveniently leaves out the courtroom scene where Atticus shames the town of Maycomb by shoving their prejudice against African Americans in their face and the scene where Scout Finch comments that she thinks there’s one kind of folks—folks. Still, Foley is right. Both novels use the N-word very often. But considering both books were written to combat racism—were those terms really meant to be offensive to the African American community? The answer is an affirmative no. The N-word was a quickened form of Negro—which at that time was what African Americans were called. Yes, the N-word was derogatory—but not offensive. It was used in the same way that we would use the word ‘hick’ nowadays. An unpleasant common word, usually used in a degrading manner, but not in a nasty offensive way. It was only years later that the word became offensive and cruel. And finally, we are not teaching our children to use offensive words by having them read the classics. We are teaching them to use offensive words by flipping on the radio and listening to rap stations throw those words around as if they’re nothing. Rather than blaming the classics, if parents are worried about offensive words being used offensively—blame the media and music of today. Harper Lee and Mark Twain did not mean to be offensive—these supposed artists do mean to be offensive.

Foley puffs up his literary feathers by offering a few books to replace these masterpieces. He mentions “Snow Falling on the Cedars”, “Going After Cacciato” and “Lonesome Dove”. He concludes smugly by saying that in honor of Barack Obama, our first black president, we should forward his dream of change by altering our school curriculum’s books. I find that this particular change is ridiculous. If anything, the books “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” should be pressed even further, not taken away. Obama is a hot button for many, mainly due to his race. If we are trying to break barriers and promote ‘change’ then shouldn’t we teach kids the two books that actually broke barriers of racism? Or must we shoot these mockingbirds down because they’re easy targets? They’re challenging and hard to read, they can hardly be called politically correct. Now that Obama is president, I say they must be read now more than ever if we want prejudice against Obama’s race to ebb.
If we want change, let’s not accommodate ignorance. Let’s further our understanding of these literary works of art and let Obama’s success inspire the next generation to fight prejudice and racism. This is why we should keep “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” on our schools’ reading lists.

Works Cited
Foley, John. "Time to Update Schools' Reading List." Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 5 Jan. 2009.

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