New Jersey School District Tackles Teaching Racially Sensitive Literature

Negro History Bulletin, April-September 1999 | Go to article overview

New Jersey School District Tackles Teaching Racially Sensitive Literature


Help develop teacher's guide for WGBH-PBS Culture Shock Series

One of America's most beloved and banned books, Mark Twain's novel was attacked when it was published in 1885 for its "low morals." It became part of the American literary canon, only to become controversial again today on the grounds of racism--a charge that is still debated in schools today. Is Huck Finn a brilliant satire, or does it reinforce racial stereotypes?

Rather than ban the controversial book, the school district in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, encouraged by African American parents, put together high school administrators, high school teachers, and college professors and developed an innovative and challenging curriculum for teaching Huck Finn. Making the runaway slave Jim the central character, the curriculum explores issues of racism and stereotypes and explores African American history and culture from Africa through slavery. The curriculum focuses on the voices of African Americans who struggled and survived against slavery.

The success of the curriculum came to the attention of WGBH Boston, which planned to develop teaching materials for its new four-part documentary series, CULTURE SHOCK. The series tells the story of a classic work of art --in literature, music, film, and painting--that has engendered both controversy and acclaim. Each program examines the cultural conditions, past and present, that lead artists to create and audiences to react. CULTURE SHOCK takes US into the heart of the debate about the role of the arts in society and explores the power of new forms of art to enthrall and also challenge us.

The first in the series, "Born to Trouble: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," recently aired on your local PBS station. …

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