What could be wrong with teaching Huck Finn?

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2022

Miscarriage and screams during labor: We feel we can state this with absolute certainty:

The New York Times' Margaret Renkl is a thoroughly good, decent person.

We say that because we've read her columns in the New York Times. Her columns reek of good human values, sensibly presented and explained.

On the other hand, Renkl's new column starts as shown below. The column originated in Nashville, where Renkl lives. To our ear, it reinforces something we told you yesterday:

RENKL (2/9/22): Tennessee school boards, you may have heard, have been busy lately striking long-beloved, award-winning classic literature from their social studies and language arts curriculums. The Williamson County School Board recently took a hard look at more than 30 texts, restricting the use of seven and striking one altogether: “Walk Two Moons,” a Newbery Medal-winning, middle-grade book by Sharon Creech that follows the story of a 13-year-old girl whose mother is missing. According to the group Moms for Liberty, who lodged the formal “reconsideration request” that caused the school board to take up the issue, “Walk Two Moons” is inappropriate for fourth-grade readers because it features “stick figures hanging, cursing and miscarriage, hysterectomy/stillborn and screaming during labor.”

We're unfamiliar with Walk Two Moons, which apparently features "stick figures hanging, cursing and miscarriage, hysterectomy/stillborn and screaming during labor.”

Personally, we've never seen the book. But on the basis of that description, is it really so strange to think that someone might be inclined to find the book unsuitable for use in fourth grade?  

Just to be clear, we're not asking what you might think about a book of that description. We're asking if you find it strange that someone, somewhere, might find that subject matter a bit advanced for children who are 9?

To us, that reaction wouldn't seem strange at all, but here's how Renkl reacted. Remember, Renkl is plainly a good and decent person. There's little real about about that:

RENKL (continuing directly): Well, may God save all American children from the knowledge that women in labor are apt to scream.

That ridiculous complaint didn’t get much national play last week because the media was still busy decrying the news from McMinn County, where the school board had just voted unanimously to remove “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from its eighth-grade curriculum...

Renkl doesn't strike us as the sarcastic type. Has she ever been sarcastic before, by which we mean once in her life?

That said, she quickly turned to stark sarcasm in reaction to the Moms for Liberty, who had lodged that "ridiculous complaint" about that use of that book.

Something there is doesn't love a wall, Robert Frost once insisted. Also, something there is doesn't let a judgment by a conservative group escape our own withering sarcasm.

We love to ridicule such lesser beings; it's an amazingly basic part of our tribal DNA. We're smarter, better and more moral than such ridiculous lessers, and we're rarely especially bashful about making such basic facts known.

We're convinced that we're the superior people. As we told you yesterday, The Others are very much able to see us when we behave in these ways.

When we told you these things yesterday, you may not have believed us. Today, after Renkl ridicules this particular group of lessers for this latest "ridiculous complaint," we're willing to rest our case:

If you can't see how unattractive these reactions are now, you'll never be able to see it.

Renkl is a good and decent person. We think her reactions in that passage are unattractive and deeply strange.

 She goes on to offer mostly sensible assessments concerning the mandated flap about Maus, which she seems to think has been "banned" in some way. (We love the term "book-banning.")  That said, to our own fine-tuned inner ear, she says several things along the way which will strike "the lesser breed" as an act of "Northern condescension" from someone who lives right there in the Volunteer State.

(As you know, we're quoting Chekhov.)

We liberals are seldom shy about volunteering our haughty opinions on matters of this type. Often, our manifest dumbness is put on display in the process. Consider something Art Spiegelman said to Walter Isaacson last week.

Spiegelman is the author of the highly-regarded Maus. As we noted yesterday, no one admires Art Spiegelman's work any more than Art Spiegelman does.

The school board in McMinn County didn't think Maus was age-appropriate for use in their eighth-grade curriculum. As he spoke with Isaacson on Amanpour & Company, Siegelman made little attempt to accept the board's assessment as a well-intentioned, minor difference in community values. 

Instead, he hurried to tell us how stupid Those People plainly were. Eventually, he also said this after Isaacson gently chided him:

ISAACSON (2/4/22): Let me push back on something you just said, which is that the parents are not really well educated enough and that they don't really know what would be good for their children. Isn't that a problem if we're not trying to balance the fact that parents should have some say and that we're seeming contemptuous, parents who want to say, "I need some control over what's being taught to my kids?"

SPIEGELMAN: Well, obviously, that's a very American attitude. But I believe the way it's done, for instance, in France, which is the other culture I'm sort of exposed to regularly because of my wife and my friends in France, is public education is about educating people so that they could participate in their great democracy experiment. And therefore, one has to learn to trust the teachers or hire teachers that are trustworthy.

It's not about trusting children. It's about trying to make sure they're not exposed to anything outside of the very narrow focus that's being offered to them. And this includes people who are triggered by reading about the slave Jim in "Huckleberry Finn" and being exposed to a bad word.

This is better taught in a school than having them come across the word and think that Mark Twain is writing about it in 2021 and exposing them to the N-word. It's in a context in which Jim is the most human and fully developed character, in some ways, in all of "Huckleberry Finn."

So, I'm just a First Amendment fundamentalist and believe it's best taught with more talk. That one exposes children to things. These things could be taught, should be taught, all of it, including the ugliest parts, as well as the most beautiful, without trying to whitewash it and hide the actual histories that children and young people and adults need to be exposed to.

Isaacson gently suggested that Spiegelman might consider being less "contemptuous" toward parents whose values may differ somewhat from his. Parodically, he responded by saying that they do it much better in France—and then by going where our tribe routinely goes when we launch this mandated pseudo-discussion.

Having left the people of Bumfuck for dead, Spiegelman set his sights on "people who are triggered by reading about the slave Jim in Huckleberry Finn and being exposed to a bad word." It's amazing how often we liberals move on to this standard position when we get going on our mandated "book-banning" kick. 

As we noted yesterday, we love to deride the lessers of Bumfuck for their retrograde views. We often move on to the way other such lessers are "triggered" by being exposed to the N-word in Huckleberry Finn.

As we noted yesterday, Spiegelman seems like a genial person whose words can be rather harsh. Tomorrow, we'll consider one of the reasons why sensible people may shy away from teaching Huck Finn in certain public schools. We're routinely amazed by the cluelessness our self-impressed tribe routinely displays on this topic.

The world is a somewhat complex place—until we of the master tribe start exposing our obvious brilliance. At any rate, these are the ways we lose elections, and with those elections the world.


28 comments:

  1. "The world is a somewhat complex place—until we of the master tribe start exposing our obvious brilliance. At any rate, these are the ways we lose elections, and with those elections the world."

    Indeed. May we suggest, however, that losing elections is not the worst thing that happens, historically, to 'master tribe' assholes.

    Sow the wind -- reap the whirlwind, as they say.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fun fact:

    Moms for Liberty felt that a children’s book with an illustration of hugging sea horses is too hot to handle for kids and should be banned from elementary schools in Williamson County, Tennessee.

    “Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea” includes such steamy passages as: “They twist their tails together and twirl gently around, changing color until they match. ... The two of them dance until sunset and then she puts her eggs into his pouch.”

    -----

    But wait, how does this align with the idea that complaints about sexual content are always a cover for something else? (Putting aside the fact that the complaint is a bit ridiculous and unintentionally amusing)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. According to a local paper, they didn't feel that this book "should be banned from elementary schools in Williamson County, Tennessee", but merely removed from the elementary school curriculum. No problem with having it in the school library.

      Delete
    2. You are right, I found the actual complaint letter:

      https://drive.google.com/file/d/16W9grkwSFsIPRQOSpQfnAHNJzvDH5Bkk/view

      Subsequently, it was widely reported that they wanted the books banned from the school libraries.

      Delete
    3. Moms for Liberty is a national conservative organization with funding from folks like the Kochs and an agenda to undermine autonomy of local schools.

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/02/09/suburban-women-voters-organize/

      Delete
    4. Wouldn't it be weird, dear dembot, if a national organization with funding and agenda to undermine autonomy make suggestions for one single county?

      What they do here is precisely what autonomy is.

      Delete
  3. "Something there is doesn't love a wall, Robert Frost once insisted. Also, something there is doesn't let a judgment by a conservative group escape our own withering sarcasm."

    Robert Frost's poem, especially that line, has nothing to do with this topic. Somerby seems to have grabbed it because of the phrase "doesn't love a..." and not because of the overall meaning of the line within the context of Frost's poem. Somerby does that a lot. It leaves us with a bunch of quotes that make no sense at all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good catch, and yes, such loose kind off connections have come to define Bob.

      Delete
  4. When many more children were born at home instead of in hospitals, all of the children, regardless of age, would be aware of the process, including screaming. There was no effort to shield children 9 or younger from realities of how babies are born, especially in rural areas.

    Even today, there are enough movies and TV shows depicting childbirth that even very young children will know that there is some screaming. A 9 year old girl is coming up on puberty. She needs to know what that is about. Men's squeamishness should not dictate what girls are told about their bodies and the realities of childbirth, which includes miscarriage with high frequency (10-20 percent of all pregnancies). It is part of the drama of women's lives. Keeping such things secret from men leaves them unprepared to comfort their daughters and wives, and that is a bad thing for society.

    Where did Somerby ever get the idea that children's literature should only be about rainbows and fantasy creatures and fun? Literature helps people work through their challenges, kids too.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "no one admires Art Spiegelman's work any more than Art Spiegelman does."

    How does this bit of snark contribute in any way to an evaluation of Spiegelman's opinions?

    ReplyDelete
  6. "As he spoke with Isaacson on Amanpour & Company, Siegelman made little attempt to accept the board's assessment as a well-intentioned, minor difference in community values. "

    Is this really what was going on? There were no community or parental complaints about Maus. This strikes me as part of a conservative push to ban books it doesn't like on the part of certain school board members with an agenda much like the national attack on school curricula.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "he responded by saying that they do it much better in France"

    Actually, he said that they do it with a different set of assumptions and a different end goal (participation in democracy) in France. He never said or implied that the French way was better, although he did imply that he agreed with it.

    Somerby's chip on his big fat Southern shoulder is showing today.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "We often move on to the way other such lessers are "triggered" by being exposed to the N-word in Huckleberry Finn."

    In fairness, Spiegelman said that it would be better to teach the book than to have someone encounter it later in life and believe that the book had been written in 2021, complete with the n-word (which is now taboo).

    Somerby seems unprepared to listen to Spiegelman and actually hear what he is saying. His own pique about being condescended to, which I consider to be a good deal in Somerby's hearing, not Spiegelman's intention or words, is preventing Somerby from hearing what is being said in this dispute.

    It does seem to me that the liberals Somerby quotes are staying focused on what may be better for kids. The right is focused on parental rights. We assume that these are necessarily congruent, but are they really? Somerby, oddly, ignores what Spiegelman said about teachers knowing what they are doing and knowing what is good for kids. He glossed right over that part, but it is at the heart of this dispute -- presuming that all adults want what is best for kids. This latter may not be true for conservatives, and if this is just a power play and an attempt at indoctrinating children of liberals, that should be made plainer.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "At any rate, these are the ways we lose elections, and with those elections the world."

    It is irritating when Somerby starts claiming that Democrats lose elections, when Biden is president and Democrats have won more than their share of the 20th century elections and look to have the advantage demographically going into the 21st century.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R, GA) says:

    ""Not only do we have the D.C. Jail, which is the D.C. Gulag, but now we have Nancy Pelosi's Gazpacho Police, spying on members of Congress, spying on the legislative work that we do..."

    "As the Republican Accountability Project, which clipped the interview, noted, Greene had likely confused the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, with gazpacho, a traditional Spanish cold tomato soup made of raw, blended vegetables. "

    But we're not allowed to laugh? Oh come on now...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She’s a genius in Right-wing circles.
      She may have even come up with the most intelligent, thought through, economic idea the Right has ever come up with : Let’s Go Brandon.
      It’s not perfect, but it makes WAY more economic sense than supply side.

      Delete
  11. The Daily Howler picked a bad fight here. One of the leading investigative journals, Propublica just wrote about this. Bob is really not telling the whole story here. This isn't like gerrymandering, it actually has an ideological bent, even if the main purpose might be to distract the public and create busywork for protest movements on both sides. But it's a partisan goal in both senses.

    https://www.propublica.org/article/a-push-to-remove-lgbtq-books-in-one-county-could-signal-rising-partisanship-on-school-boards

    ReplyDelete
  12. When you start with a bad funda nothing comes out right (funda=fundamentals, for those not in the know).

    In the not so olden days, used to be, you, the parent, trust the teachers and trust the school. I did. Not anymore, the LGBTQ crowd has run amok.

    Back in 90s (1990s), serious and heavy debate, fight, on gay rights, the wrong side made wild predictions. We all teetered and scorned. Today, we all sorry to see the Wrong side was right.

    Some here say 'main purpose' to create 'protest movements', some humor it way in smart words and witty sentences. These folks, they should know, its not about Moms for Liberty; go ahead make them object of fun. This is about 'what' is a child and 'what' is not. About why we have set voting age of 18.

    About why we understand the need for age of consent for sex. And its not 4th grade, for those not in the know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The 4th Grade is for Active Shooter Drills.

      Delete
    2. No one was suggesting that 4th graders should have sex.

      Delete
  13. "Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX) says Nancy Pelosi is using Capitol Police officers disguised as construction workers to investigate his office."

    But we're supposed to take Southerners seriously and not laugh at them? In what universe?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's one southerner. There are millions of southerners.

      Delete
    2. Millions of brain-dead liberals (roughly: all of them) are under the impression that Donald J Trump is a "Russian asset".

      Is that less laughable than the allegation that liberal cult is using fake construction workers to spy on infidels?

      Tsk. Nah, we don't think so. Not even close.

      Delete
    3. Mao, you are stereotyping. The whole Russian thing was ridiculous. Yet so is the claim that the incumbent POTUS was cheated in the last election.

      Delete
    4. Yeah, right, because ballot-box stuffing and ballot harvesting are unheard of. ...not to mention massive smear campaigns by the establishment media in coordination with 17 intelligence agencies.

      Delete
    5. 'massive smear campaigns by the establishment media"

      What'd they do, pretend to care that Republicans were pretending to care about Trump's email protocols?

      Delete
  14. There is screaming during childbirth in the Bible. It was part of God's curse that women should give birth in pain, after Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Evil.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Garden of "Evil"? intentional description on your part?

      Delete