Tag Archives: Crosspoint Academy

Racial terms and the books that are filled with them

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 literature.

“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 Huckleberry Finn?”

“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 Holmes”.
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. Seriously!”

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 of time.

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 Gribben.

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 purpose.”

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 blind spot.

“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 conversation.”

Crosspoint students tackle world changing ideas

For the fourth year in a row, Crosspoint teacher Carla Fontenot has challenged her students to tackle projects that make a tangible change in their neighborhoods, the community and the world. It’s a pretty tall order for third and fourth graders, but the kids have stepped up admirably, Fontenot reported in a recent news release about this year’s ideas.
Fontenot’s “Christian Leadership Challenge” started in 2009 as “a Bible lesson and morphed into a ‘life lesson’ for my students, my parents and myself,” said Fontenot.
Crosspoint, formerly Kings West Academy, is a private Christian school in Chico. In 2009, the year of the name change, there was a big focus on leadership. During the Bible lesson, Fontenot asked her class if they thought they were old enough to make a difference in the world.
They brainstormed and came up with “little things,” ideas like helping a neighbor pick up litter or helping a relative watch a dog.
Branching out, they discussed collecting food for a food bank or raising money for the humane society. Pretty soon, that original group of students was on fire with ideas like finding a cure for cancer.
Fontenot devised three categories: neighborhood, community, world, and set guidelines that students’ projects couldn’t cost their parents money (except maybe stamps and gas), and they couldn’t benefit monetarily themselves.
“I was surprised at how the students took off with the ideas, Fontenot said.
Karis Melin’s 2009 project to collect stuffed animals for sick children at Harrison Medical Center has been continued by other students in each following year. Parents have jumped in enthusiastically.
In other notable projects, Emma Rose Brown in 2010 made bracelets and note cards to sell for an organization called HOPE International, and Hayden Wallis in 2011 set up a challenge to see which classroom could collect the most food for the food bank, with his family offering a pizza party to the winners.
Here are the projects proposed for this year:
Emily Devine’s goal is to collect 40 new stuffed animals for Harrison Hospital. She has a collection box at the school.
Landon McArdles’ helped with a church program called “Feed the 5,000.” He helped set up and take down the program’s booth at his church. Landon exceeded his goal of helping to secure 20 sponsorships. Twenty-six children were sponsored for the meal program.
Trevin Foley is collecting items for Bremerton Foodline. He will go door to door and ask for one donation per house and will collect items outside of a grocery store. His goal is to collect 100 items.
Owen Wyatt is collecting board games for the Seattle Children’s Hospital. He wants hurt kids to have fun. His plan is to try to get 50 board games. He is going to ask his family members to donate games.
Marshall Hainer is collecting canned foods to donate to the South Kitsap Food Bank. He is calling his project “Let’s Feed Those in Need.” Marshall hopes to collect 100 cans of food from neighbors.
Emma Frey-Erickson is collecting items for the Kitsap Humane Society. She is asking for donations of pet food, beds, and toys for cats and dogs. Her goal is to collect 25 items.
Blessing Rene is collecting books for children in Africa. She will raise money to send gently used books abroad.
Nick Johnson wants to help endangered species by raising money. He is still working on a plan and a goal.
Anyone who wants to help these students meet their goals can call Crosspoint at (360) 377-7700.