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John Bird <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 11 Nov 1998 09:35:54 -0500
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As much as I support the right to teach controversial works, I'm going to
have to weigh in against teaching _Huckleberry Finn_ in 8th grade.  I will
preface by saying that, even though I'm now a college English professor, I
have taught in the public schools:  7th grade, 10th, 11th, and 12th.

I think Huck is too advanced for most 8th-graders.  The language poses a
problem (the vernacular, I mean), and the dialect really does (especially
Jim's).  Then there's the repeated use of "nigger," which some but not most
8th-graders would be mature enough to handle.  Most of all, the issues and
pervasive irony are, I think, best perceived by older, maturer readers.  A
devoted, experienced teacher (as I am sure Jane is!) could probably pull
this difficult task off.  But I would still say Huck is best left for a few
years later.

I don't mean that someone in the 8th grade shouldn't be able to read the
novel by herself or himself--I think I first read it (with small
understanding) in the 5th grade.  But for a class, other works would be
better.  I think teachers try to rush students sometimes.  I get so many
college students who are turned off to a novel like _The Scarlet Letter_ or
_Huckleberry Finn_ because they were forced to read them at too early an

On the other hand, I think _Tom Sawyer_ is not too elementary or dated for
8th-graders.  When I taught 7th grade, I read the novel aloud over the
course of the year (a little Friday treat every week, something a teacher
of mine had done that left a big impression on me).  Students at that age
really enjoy reading about Tom's rebellion, his adventures, and his love

Just my two cents!