A high school English teacher in Ridgefield, Wash., has created a literary firestorm by writing recently that, now that we have an African-American president, it’s time to drop The Adventures of the Huckleberry Finn from the curriculum. In an op-ed piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer earlier this month, John Foley said that it was increasingly difficult to downplay or contextualize the novel’s often demeaning racial content. “And,” he added, with what sounds like the voice of experience, “I never want to rationalize Huck Finn to an angry African-American mom again as long as I breathe.”
Foley also said that, because of their dated racial views, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men “don’t belong on the curriculum, either.”
Foley’s editorial was heavily criticized both in his own school and in a stream of letters-to-the-editor and e-mails to the Post-Intelligencer, according to a follow-up story in the Los Angeles Times. “There’s nothing in American literature that more succinctly and directly attacks racial prejudice than Mark Twain’s The Adventures of the Huckleberry Finn,” wrote one reader. “This is another teacher anxious to pursue political correctness more than seek to understand what is involved in truly ‘reading’ a book.”
But Foley maintains that the classics he wants to drop no longer make sense in contemporary America. “Our new president is this very intelligent, highly articulate guy,” he told the L.A. Times, “and the literature we’re foisting on our children typically depicts black men as ignorant, inarticulate, uneducated. And the contrast just jumped out at me.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.