Literature for Life: When Cultures Meet. By Judi Moreillon and Maria Cahill
When Cultures Meet by Judi Moreillon and Maria Cahill. This article is from School Library Monthly (SLM) magazine’s “Literature for Life” column. This column covers books for tweens (and children) where characters demonstrate dispositions found in the Standards for the 21st-Century Learner (AASL 2007). Ok, so first I had to find out what the Standards for the 21st-Century Learner (AASL 2007) are. I found the information here. And here is the summary of what these standards are:
Standards for the 21st-Century Learner offer vision for teaching and learning to both guide and beckon our profession as education leaders. They will both shape the library program and serve as a tool for school librarians to use to shape the learning of students in the school.
The idea here is that the books included in these column would be discussed in a group environment, a literary circle, allowing students to use critical thinking skills and be a part of a learning community.
So, this particular column is about the issues that arise when people from different cultures meet, interact, and exchange ideas. The column ends with annotated list of books that allow and encourage students to explore their views and beliefs and the views and beliefs of people different from themselves (book list is below). Each book also has a discussion question that helps educators hone in on one of the primary topics of the text. In a literature circle, or other class or group discussion, students reading these books have the opportunity to explore responses to people who are considered “other.” “Discussion around issues raised in these books can help students become more open to new ideas and divergent opinions and, when supported by educators, children and youth may rise to challenge injustice and take social action (Bomer and Bomer 2001).”
I think it is an important part of internal self discovery as well as external learning about the culture and society around us for young people to learn, explore, and engage with cultures and people who are different for them. For members of a community’s majority, this may take more effort than for members of a community’s minority groups, as minority groups are often immersed in a culture other than their own. But the books included in the list in the this article all center around the topic of cultures meeting one another. It is in these meetings that readers of these books can explore the characters’ actions and reactions as well as their own. They can also use empathy to explore the reactions of characters who are different from themselves. It is an ability to see the humanity in each person, that I think would go a long way toward intercultural understanding and respect, and maybe even peace in communities, in cities, in countries, in the world. These books provide educators, like school librarians and teachers, as well as students with tools and opportunities to explore these subjects and discover more about themselves and others.
Bomer, K., & Bomer R. (2001). For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Moreillon, J., & Cahill, M. (2010). When cultures meet. School Library Monthly, 27(2), 27-29.
image from tomkeplerswritingblog.com
Huck Finn Part 2
So, one of the main arguments that NewSouth Books makes for printing an altered version of Huck Finn is that many schools and school districts ban the book, due to its offensive language. This renders Huckleberry Finn, by some scholars’ estimations one of the iconic classics of American literature, a book that rarely gets read and taught in schools. The editor of the new, “n” word-free version, Alan Gribben, makes this point by using the word “rescued” to describe what this new edition would do for the book. So, is this true? Is this book essential to a study of American literature? And, if it is, do we need to alter it in order to get it into schools, is it so essential that it should be in schools by any means necessary?
Joan Delfattore, professor of English and legal studies at the University of Delaware and author of Knowledge in the Making: Academic Freedom and Free Speech in America’s Schools and Universities, thinks that the goal of making sure no students are uncomfortable with the materials presented in a classroom, renders the classroom a place that does NOT support “critical thinking and complex reasoning skills.” Delfattore explains that many schools are trying to avoid a “hostile learning environment” by staying away from texts like Huckleberry Finn. She believes, as I do, that a hostile learning environment should be avoided as well, but she does not think that discussions around difficult topics like racism, discrimination constitute a hostile learning environment. She explains that “A hostile learning environment is one in which a student is denied equal access to the content of instruction.” Delfattore argues, and this goes back to my previous post’s discussion of teachable moments, that there are many topics that are uncomfortable, and that it is in this discomfort and the exploration of it that education happens. I agree.
Chronicle of Higher Education collected some of the comments by its bloggers, I have summarized some key points below.
Marybeth Gasman, an associate professor of higher education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, makes a broader point about the historical perspective that Huckleberry Finn, with the “n” word, provides. “Nothing is less comforting for Americans than the n-word. Taking it out of a book may make for easier reading, but to do so leads us down a slippery slope toward collective amnesia. The n-word has a vicious history in the United States, and one that must be remembered so that we don’t repeat it.”
Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University also supports the view that the book can be taught in a responsible way with attention to context. “Assigning a work is not the same thing as endorsing it. It is to hold the work up to analysis. Furthermore, one of the lessons of the assignment should be to recognize that one can analyze something that one deplores.”
Marc Bousquet, an associate professor of English at Santa Clara University is in favor of the altered version, “I don’t think this edition is censorship…A better question in this whole debate might be: Why is it so desirable for schoolchildren to read the n-word a couple of hundred times–even when it makes them feel uncomfortable–but not desirable for them to read words beginning with “c” for male and female genitalia?” I think I understand what Bousquet means here, why is some profanity justified as contextual and some would never be tolerated under any circumstances? And that is a good question, but I think the answer is that the “n” word sits solidly in a social, political, and historical context; those “c” words, to which he refers, do not. And here I am again in the uncomfortable position of arguing for the “n” word, in this specific context, but still, it feels weird.
Author Lorrie Moore wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in which she calls upon her perspective as a mother to add to this discussion. Finally, I found a voice that validates the things I believe, and offers a practical solution to some of the problems with which I have been grappling with. Basically, Moore says that Huckleberry Finn should not be edited in any way but also that it should not be taught in high school (nor, presumably middle school) but that we should, “wait until college — or even graduate school — where it can be put in proper context.” This is an interesting answer to my feelings of being torn, not wanting to cause young people to feel alienated or hurt, but not wanting to alter the book. Waiting to teach this text in college, or later, gives students and teachers ample opportunity to analyze in depth the many facets of representations of race, negative stereotypes, dehumanization and interracial relationships. Moore goes on to explain the damage that reading Huckleberry Finn could do to younger students, “The young black American male of today, whose dignity in our public schools is not always preserved or made a priority, does not need at the start of his literary life to be immersed in an even more racist era by reading a celebrated text that exuberantly expresses everything crazy and wicked about that time — not if one’s goal is to get that teenager to like books. Huck’s voice is a complicated amalgam of idioms and perspectives and is not for the inexperienced contemporary reader.” I agree with Moore that the book should not be taught to a class unless there is ample time and space to go to the depths necessary to take apart the work and analyze it. I appreciate her idea for the best approach to teaching Huck Finn; however, I wonder if she gives high school students enough credit? Thoughts, anyone?
DelFattore, J. (2011). Huck Finn, Hostile? Hardly. Chronicle of Higher Education, 57(24), A28. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/ehost/detail?sid=c79f4e3d-bf39-4d77-8eec-c8582049871d%40sessionmgr10&vid=5&hid=24&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=58553906
Gribben, A. (2011). Trouble on The Raft. Publishers Weekly, 258(3), 52. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/ehost/detail?vid=4&hid=11&sid=ebed751b-fd43-49ba-8fee-3781d13303c6%40sessionmgr15&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=lih&AN=57525284
Moore, L. (2011, January 16). Send Huck Finn to College. New York Times. p. 12. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/ehost/detail?vid=3&hid=24&sid=c79f4e3d-bf39-4d77-8eec-c8582049871d%40sessionmgr10&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=57339633
The Redacted ‘Huckleberry Find’: ‘Chronicle’ Bloggers Respond. (2011). Chronicle of Higher Education, 57(21), B4. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/ehost/detail?sid=c79f4e3d-bf39-4d77-8eec-c8582049871d%40sessionmgr10&vid=4&hid=24&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=57944525
Searching for interesting articles about Tweens, I come across: Lauren Myracle: ‘This Generation’s Judy Blume’ In Publisher’s Weekly from February, 2011. “Cool,” I think, “it’s current and she sounds like an author I would like to know about.”
Then I read the abstract (emphasis mine):
This article presents a profile of U.S. author Lauren Myracle. Her novels for tween and teenage received protests. The American Library Association (ALA) banned her Internet Girls book series. Myracle plans to release a book titled “Shine,” a novel about hate crime, in May 2011. The author received e-mails from teenage girls commending her Internet Girls book series.
O. M. G. That did not just say the ALA banned a book series?! Did it?!
Then I read the article. HUGE sigh. In the first paragraph: “Complaints about the Internet Girls series—three books written entirely in the truncated chat-speak of the online world—earned her a place on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Banned Books list for the last three years.” Hello out there, when the ALA puts together a list of the most banned books, they are actually shining a spotlight on these books as part of their philosophy against banning books or any form of censorship. That is REALLY different than the ALA banning a book series. Totally different. Pretty much the opposite, in fact.
Wow, once again, a reminder to be a critical reader and thinker.
OK, so back to the article. It seems like Lauren Myracle is doing something right. In my world, if books cause controversy they’re doing their job. It means they will make us think and challenge ourselves and each other. And, as Myracle is being compared to Judy Blume, I realize the kind of controversy her writing causes is likely because she is being brutally honest, that’s my sense of what landed Blume in trouble too. Scholastic, that dubious bastion of all things kid, book, and school-related, temporarily banned, Myracle’s Luv Ya Bunches, from, “Book Fairs because a main character’s parents were lesbians.” Seriously? This is 2011, people!
The book that came out the first of this month (5/1/11), Shine, deals with a hate crime against a teen perceived as gay. Unfortunately, this type of crime is a reality, I am interested in how Myracle addresses it. I look forward to what seems like a creative, authentic approach to tween and teen literature. So, I am excited to read Myracle’s books, I want to know what words are so scary that young people shouldn’t even read them. I recommend you check her out too, then let me know what you think, or if you’ve read Myracle’s books already, what you think?
CORBETT, S. (2011). Lauren Myracle: ‘This Generation’s Judy Blume.’. Publishers Weekly, 258(8), 31. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/ehost/detail?sid=e307c408-d8d5-44f1-b6ad-31ac8777f674%40sessionmgr10&vid=1&hid=11&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=lih&AN=59212098
The Money of Tween Girls
I just read a New York Times article about China Anne McClain, who, at 12 years old, is one of Disney’s next hopes for a tween sensation. The Disney Channel liked her so much, in fact, that it created a program just for her. She has guest starred on other Disney Channel programs, as Disney has been grooming her for a show of her own. She is apparently quite talented at acting, as a comedian and as a singer. I wish her the best of luck, she seems like a lovely girl, truly. And the execs at the Disney Channel hope she does well, too, only their primary reason is different than mine. They are after a commodity. They want someone who can sell programs to advertisers, and can sell albums, sheets, books, clothing, video games, and the list goes on. In short, they want China Anne to make them money.
Photo by Richard Perry for the New York Times
There’s nothing new about using people as commodities. The only thing that has changed a bit in the last several years is the very intentional targeting of tweens with tween stars. Tweens have a lot of buying power, “There are nearly 21 million Tweens (ages 6-12) and young teens in the U.S. who control more than $50B in purchasing power,” (Businessweek.com, 2006), so, of course, they are a market that advertisers want tap into and what better way than via a TV show? But at what cost to the tween star, and, in turn, to the girls who watch and look up to the star?
I found myself reading about China Anne and, first off, assuming that she will become troubled at some point in the future. I feel fairly certain that she will have a drug problem or an eating disorder or be a part of a sex scandal, or, maybe, all of the above. Now, of course, some tween girls who are not tween stars also struggle with these issues, but my sense is that the percentage of tween stars with these types of troubles is disproportionately – and significantly – higher than non-tween stars. The article speaks to the fact that many tween stars before China Anne have transitioned out of tweendom in a less than graceful way. According to this article China Anne is practical and grounded, with a supportive and involved family. I hope that’s enough. I hope that she can be saved from the fate of most tween stars, but I’m not 100% confident. It seems to be part of the whole way the business works that tween stars can’t handle their lives. Whether it’s too much money too fast, too much scrutiny from the press, too little privacy, too much pressure these young people have a hard go of it. They are, in many ways, being treated like adults and being expected to behave like adults, but they are NOT adults (not that adult stars have it so together either, but being an adult star doesn’t seem to automatically mean trouble is to come). Of course, there are some examples of tween stars who seem to be managing their lives well, the article mentions Selena Gomez, but just wait. I think it is almost guaranteed that a scandal will come.
And what does this do to the young people watching the programs and looking up to their stars? A mom in the NYT article, “’These channels are starting to lose my trust in this department,’ said Tara Shannon, a Denver mother of a boy, 8, and a girl, 11. `We’ve taken the bait time and again, and time and again it has left us as parents with a mess to clean up.’” I wonder if the people really losing are the young, likely impressionable girls, who idolize the Miley’s, Lindsey’s, and Jamie Lynn’s of the world. I’m not talking about morality here, I’m talking about self respect, respecting one’s body, feeling good about oneself, having dreams and aspirations beyond emulating vapid and superficial tween idols. Where’s the TV character that inspires a tween girl to be a scholar or president or a critical thinker or to make a difference in this wonderful, but deeply flawed, world? Where are those role models? Unfortunately, again, it all comes down to the money. Disney and Nickelodeon have a formula for what sells, what makes them the most money, any negative consequences to tween stars or tween viewers are just collateral damage.
“Tween Stars Wanted: Must Be Primed for Pressure” by Brooks Barnes, New York Times, May 11, 2011, retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/arts/television/tween-stars-wanted-must-be-primed-for-pressure.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss
“Tween Power:Purchasing Strength Of Kids” Business Week Weekend, December 12, 2006, retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/mediacenter/video/bwweekend/2422f1b1427994acc09a849d174d60e620f4d370.html
Huckleberry Finn without the “N” Word
In case you haven’t heard, NewSouth Press has published a version of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and replaced all 200+ occurrences of the “n” word with the word, “slave” (The word “Injun” is also replaced by “Indian,” but occurs far fewer times; here I’m going to focus on the “n” word). So, what to think of this? I have found several articles and news videos that discuss this topic, but before I read and watch them all I want to put out there what comes up for me around this issue, as a future librarian, as someone who cares deeply about issues of race and social justice.
My first strong reaction was: That’s censorship; they shouldn’t do that. And then another side of me said, but would you want to read that in a classroom full of kids, knowing it could be causing some of the kids pain? But, you can’t change the book, it’s wrong. Other side: is it better not to read it at all? Maybe it is better just to avoid reading it, rather than changing it. But, then don’t we miss out on a learning opportunity. And my mind went on and on…
So, let’s break this down a little bit. (Before I go on, let me just state that what follows are my opinions, please take them as such, and please, please, please feel free to submit your opinion as a comment, I would love to hear what other people think about this complicated, multi-faceted topic.) Here are my thoughts:
- It is wrong to change the words in a book from the way it was originally intended. Are there exceptions to this? Yes. If the author is able to participate and agree to the changes, then it might be OK. If the change is to make the book understandable because the language has changed so much since the book was written. And there are other legitimate reasons, but, in this case, I think it was the wrong thing to do.
- I do not like the “n” word. Obviously, I’m not even comfortable writing it out on this blog. To me it brings up the long history of racial oppression by white Americans toward African Americans, and that legacy is still being felt today. The “n” word, said by a white person, is almost always offensive and hateful. African Americans use the word however they deem appropriate, but I do not think it is appropriate for non-Black Americans to use it.
- So, here’s the dilemma, what to do when reading the book out loud in class? Some questions first. Is it a classic that all students should read as a part of a diverse selection of American historical fiction? Is there another option that could provide the same learning opportunities without the offensive language? Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, the answer is no to that last question, and that Huckleberry Finn is a necessary component of a fictional Middle or High School English class. Of course, that is up for debate, but just to be able to move forward… Does is have to be read out loud? Let’s answer yes to that as well, so that I can’t get out of this uncomfortable space using a technicality.
- If the book is read out loud in class, there are likely to be some students who will feel pain and/or shame and/or other emotions when the “n” word is spoken. This book has over 200 incidences of the “n” word, so this could feel like a verbal assault. No one wants students to feel pain for any reason, not especially this one, so what can be done?
- What if this whole experience could be seen as a series of “teachable moments*;” would that work? Perhaps there needs to be a discussion of the word PRIOR to even opening the book. And not only a discussion of the “n” word, but also a discussion of racism in general, which was done for 3 days in a classroom in Minnesota prior to the class’s reading any part of the book, as reported in a 60 Minutes story on this topic (video at the end of this post). Maybe every student could get a chance to speak about how they feel in a safe, supportive atmosphere. This discussion would go very differently in a racially mixed class than one with mostly white students, so, obviously, it would need to be structured appropriately for the group. Perhaps, even, the group itself could discuss whether or not the word should be used as is or with some alteration.
- The “n” word was intentionally included by Twain. It represents the language that was used in the time that the book takes place. It detracts from the authenticity of the book to change it. The book is intricately connected to issues about race, slavery, hate, and dehumanization, these are not side issues. Also, It isn’t always accurate to substitute the “n” word with “slave” in the book. The meaning is changed. From the 60 minutes piece, Professor and Author David Bradley (University of Oregon), who is for teaching Huck Finn as a classic in American literature and against changing the text in any way, says, “slave is a condition, I mean, anybody can be a slave, and it’s nothing for any body to be ashamed of, but nigger has to do with shame, nigger has to do with calling somebody something, nigger was what made slavery possible.”
- I struggle with my conviction here, when I think about the word being said over and over in a classroom and causing pain to some students every time.
Time, I think, to get some insight from others….
*Teachable Moment described in Wikipedia: “that moment when a unique, high interest situation arises that lends itself to discussion of a particular topic.” It implies “personal engagement” with issues and problems.
4. Lozo, Fredric (2005). The Project Gutenberg eBook of Sequential Problem Solving. Originally published by Eidon Books, 1998, ISBN 0967416604.
5. Parker-Pope, Tara. “It’s Not Discipline, It’s a Teachable Moment,” New York Times. September 15, 2008
Watch the 60 Minutes Report:
Huckleberry Finn and the “N” Word, 60 Minutes (CBS TV Program), March 20, 2011