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Huck Finn


When the New York Board of Education dropped Huckleberry Finn from the list of approved textbooks for elementary and junior high school it deprived thousands of children of a chance to read one of the finest books ever written in this country and an all-time childhood classic. More important, it is an unfortunate example in minority censorship. The step, like the earlier panning of authors suspected of a pink tinge, represents a movement away from thoughtful and provocative education and toward an insipid parochialism in the public schools.

The claim by a Negro spokesman that the book is "racially offensive" shows a reading in which the racial sensitvity was sharper than the wits. For if there are some "passages derogatory to Negroes" (largely because the vernacular used has since changed in shade of meaning) the total drama shows the dignity and worth of "nigger Jim." Indeed, Huck's own moral growth is a function of his affection and respect for Jim. Other whites show badly in comparison as Jim teaches Huck not mere tolerance, but love. That the process is slow and painful and that it takes place in a still-enslaved South provide a realism which enhances the educational value of the book as a humane document.

However, when the book was dropped, educational values were partially forgotten. While direct protest did not cause the board's action publishers learned that bowdlerized editions still hurt too many feelings. The crux of the matter is that, while education should try to give some emotional security, its primary object is development of the free mind. Since Huckleberry Finn serves that object well, ignorance is a high price for protecting feelings which, if aided by mature understanding, would not be hurt anyway.

Furthermore the principle of minority censorship points dangerously toward cultural sterility. Much of art depicts and grows out of conflict. The artist formulates and may attempt some resolution of worldly conflicts; he does not cause them.

Huckleberry Finn is not a Ku Klux Klan pamphlet. To drop this book from the textbook list is a shortsighted educational policy. Surely this acknowledged classic presents life in terms universal enough to out-weigh its incidental provincial slants. Let the latter be considered in historical terms and not taken as a contemporary affront.

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