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WHOA, DAMMIT!

A taste of politics blended with literary opinion, this piece was originally composed several years ago, yet it still applies today. As always, thanks for stopping by.

WHOA, DAMMIT!

Unlike the title might indicate this isn’t a comical bit about ill-mannered horse flesh. Rather, this piece deals with human stupidity, in particular the censorship of classic literature for the sake of political correctness and the guarding of tender minds. What a crock!

The instigator for this exposé: the expurgated edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Expurgate: an upper-crust term for butchering a novel that portrays a distinct part of American history. From a medical slant, perhaps the term expurgate should be wordectomy. Regardless of phrasing, the real question we have to ask ourselves is, why? Why should we ever feel the need to censor or modify the works of masters in their craft? What do we hope to gain by doing so? More importantly, what values do we teach our children by sheltering them from anything remotely controversial and/or revising our vocabulary toward inane political correctness?

In a 2011online article, the President of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, Christopher Finan, said, “…we cannot give in to demands to censor books without doing serious damage to our kids, the schools, and ultimately our nation.”

Bravo, Mr. Finan! I wholeheartedly agree.

He went on to say, “What we need is good teaching, not censorship.”

Now, before every instructor in America starts bellowing protests, I doubt Mr. Finan intended to insult educators with his last statement. Rather, I believe he meant to challenge them to amend teaching methods by including such things as literary classics––controversial or not––in order to help students learn to or improve how they deal with conflict. Conflict is not something to hide, it’s a part of life. It also happens to be what drives the plot of every great novel. Students that learn to understand conflict and how to handle it while in school, will most certainly benefit as adults when they enter our highly competitive, too often biased/racist society. Think about it this way: We vaccinate our children’s bodies to prevent disease. Why not vaccinate their minds with a dose of unaltered, literary history to prevent biased/racist ignorance as well?

Does that mean I endorse the term Nigger, the questionable word Mark Twain used over two-hundred times in Huckleberry Finn? Definitely, NO! Although I grew up with that descriptive in my childhood environment, as a teenager, the term vanished from our household. In society today, the N-word remains both distasteful and offensive. But for the era that Mark Twain describes in his highly successful novel, the word was deemed appropriate and, therefore, used in the moniker for one of the book’s prominent characters.

While questioning the matter of word choice, I find the term African-American offensive. Germany provided the majority of my family’s roots, yet German-American is never a reference applied to me. To surveys, the DMV, and everyone around me, I’m just plain white. And simply because a person bears dark skin, black hair, and brown eyes does not guarantee their immediate family hailed from Africa. More importantly–and what truly offends me–why does it matter? Why can’t all US citizens be labeled AMERICANS, rather than isolate one race from another? From my perspective, our current ethnic labeling serves to instill bias rather than deter it, which makes the system downright counter-productive.

To reiterate a previous point about history, consider this quote: “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke (1729-1797). There are many versions of this revelation, as well as people credited with originating it. But bottom-line: Like all history, classic literature documents a part of our past and should not be shelved without consequence. Classic literature represents humanity––who we were, the struggles we endured as nations and the world, and what we might endure again if history and classic literature is ignored. And seriously, how is censoring classic literature in our schools much different than Christians censoring––or expurgating––the Bible, or Muslims the Qur’an, Jews the Torah, or Hindus the Veda scriptures? In their unique fashion, each of these writings represents foundations of religions and cultures––conflict, peace, name-calling, murder, mayhem, and all. Why should entire nations suffer the negative outcome of literary censorship due to opinions from the single-minded few?

As a US citizen, I recognize America as a nation built upon a foundation of ethnicities and freedoms. So I have to ask, isn’t one of those liberties the freedom of choice? If a person dislikes topics or terms used in a novel, they do not have to read it. If what a museum displays seems distasteful, they don’t have to visit the establishment. If they don’t like what’s on TV, they can change channels, or turn it off. If they don’t want their child exposed to curriculum that the general public deems acceptable, they can/should consider an educational institution that more closely adheres to and expounds their personal values. Or, they can home school their little rascals.

Regardless, consider this: A few skinned knees once in a while––physical or emotional––helps build character and better prepares kids for the tribulations encountered in the adult world. So please, let kids skin a knee or bruise an ego from time to time. Allow them to expand their knowledge and truly learn from the experience. Ultimately, society will benefit from those encounters.

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