During the coverage of the use of the racially charged word at
Poulsbo Elementary School, a few commenters raised the issue of
whether schools should stop having students read some pieces of
“Do you mean to say that you doubt the value of a Martin
Luther King Jr in the world? Or of a Samuel Clemons and a
“We’d best burn all copies of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to
spare the children and their parents future further discomfort.
Better throw in To Kill A Mockingbird for good measure.”
Or if he reads Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Adventures of Sherlock
Or Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”.
Or even Alex Haley’s “Roots” – come to that.
The next one is especially prescient:
“Enroll your children in Charter or Private School
immediately! Common Core propaganda “teaching” will warp your
child’s cognitive skills and retard his/her intellect.
It’s prescient because our latest issue comes from just such a
private school, Crosspoint Academy in the Chico area. It seems
parents there are capable of noticing these issues, too.
Roland and Naomi Truitt said their son, who is in eighth grade,
brought home the book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The
Truitts are black and said their son is the only black student in
his class. There was little notice beforehand about the book, they
said. There had been an email from the teacher telling parents the
students would be reading the book and instructions for how to
download a copy, but not discussion of some of the language in the
book they thought warranted ample conversation before engaging in
the Mark Twain classic. The Truitt’s sought a conversation with the
school’s administrator, Nick Sweeney, which they did receive. They
asked if other books that accomplish the same purposes could be
considered. They asked that if Tom Sawyer were to be the book read,
that someone who is trained in culturally sensitive history be
allowed into the classroom to discuss the book’s language with the
school children. In the end, they said, nothing really changed.
They’re not certain the teacher is equipped to adequately address
the sensitive issue, or what kind of conversation there was ahead
Sweeney, for his part, has not returned two requests I made to
him on Thursday to talk about the issue. I can’t say for sure that
he won’t talk about the it, but in an an email he sent to the
Truitts following a conversation he had with Robert Boddie, who was
requesting a conversation, he said the school does not “disclose
information about any actions to outside press, lawyers, agents or
others,” so his silence so far is in line with that statement. We
don’t have Crosspoint’s side of story.
Our readers who mentioned other books that contain the n-word
are drawing upon recent history. Tom Sawyer has been controversial,
but not nearly as much as The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn. In Tom Sawyer the main villain is a Native American who
is repeatedly referred to in insensitive terms. Tom and Huck also
use the n-word four times. In Huck Finn the n-word appears 218
times, according to Auburn University English Professor Alan
In 2003 a student at Renton High School asked that Huck Finn be banned, even
though the class where it was assigned spent two weeks discussing
the language, the context and laid out ground rules for the class
before anyone even opened the book.
For Gribben, all that controversy over the words “formed a
barrier to these works for teachers, students, and general readers”
he wrote in the introduction of the
version of the Tom and Huck he had published. “We may applaud
Twain’s ability as a prominent American literary realist to record
the speech of a particular region during a specific historical era,
but abusive racial insults that bear distinct connotations of
permanent inferiority nonetheless repulse modern-day readers.
Twain’s two books do not deserve ever to join that list of literary
‘classics’ he once humorously defined as those ‘which people praise
and don’t read,’ yet the long-lofty status of Tom Sawyer and
Huckleberry Finn has come under question in recent decades.”
The books are a satire of the racism of the time, yet their use
as standard reading in schools was diminishing, because of the
language. Gribben wanted people who might shy away because of the
language to know the books, so he replaced the n-word with “slave”
and he modified the phrase used form the villain in Tom Sawyer and
a few other phrases.
Gribben’s other justification for doing this was because Twain
used to read his daily writings to an audience outside his house
and would take note of language the listeners liked or didn’t. He’d
make changes because of it. Gribben is suggesting Samuel Clemens
(Mark Twain was his pen name, I probably don’t have to tell you.)
might have made the change himself had he ever read the stories
from Tom and Huck to an audience that cared.
Critics saw Gribben’s move as wrongheaded. In a story published by the BBC, Cindy Lovell,
executive director of The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in
Hannibal, Missouri, said, “The book is an anti-racist book and to
change the language changes the power of the book.” We’re supposed
to be uncomfortable with the language, she said. “He wrote to make
us squirm and to poke us with a sharp stick. That was the
There are other parallels. For a while there was a slate of
companies that would edit out of movies content people found
objectionable. It gave some people access to stories they would
otherwise have not seen. But sometimes storytelling is designed to
make people uncomfortable, perhaps through language or imagery they
don’t make a point to encounter. Literature is supposed to not just
entertain us, it supposed to enlighten us, and sometimes it might
have to make us angry or embarrassed to get a point across. That
might be what those people who had their movies edited missed.
For the Truitts, they really want all three of their children to
continue with the private education their kids are getting. The
Truitts both work, he at the shipyard and she owns a business. They
are Christian and want their children to go to school around other
Christian children so they will be “equipped to defend their
beliefs when they’re out in the world,” Roland said. They are
Republicans who place a high value on personal responsibility, for
not relying on government. They have been happy with how Crosspoint
officials have been willing to work with them on other issues, such
as the possibility of having one of their three children skip a
grade. College is an expectation for their children, not a wish.
And they think the Crosspoint education supports their efforts to
raise their children well, educationally and spiritually.
On the issue of Tom Sawyer, though, they wonder if there is a
“I hope that we’re able to work this out,” Naomi Truitt said.
“As a family we don’t whitewash past history, but we have
discussions about it. That’s all we’re asking for, is a
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