Classics can help with perspective

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Recently, the Cedar Rapids school district pulled Mark Twain's classic "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer from a required reading list for eighth graders, citing "troubling language and depictions of African-Americans."

This after the district had already spent $5,000 purchasing copies for eighth-grade classes. The book was not banned from the school, but is simply not among the novels eighth-graders will be required to read.

The administration pulled the classic after one of the teachers who had initially recommended it raised concerns about the language used in the novel.

This is troubling for several reasons. First and foremost, $5,000 worth of books should not go to waste. Money and resources are precious commodities at any school and can ill afford to be wasted. Secondly, after re-reading the novel, one of the teachers that had recommended its purchase -- $5,000 worth -- made the determination that it would be offensive.

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," written over 150 years ago, was a product of its time. Slavery had only recently been abolished, and the novel, set in the days before abolition, portrayed blacks and whites in unflattering, stereotypical fashion.

In these times of political correctness, too often we lose perspective on the things that have made us the people we are today. Sure, the novel portrays African-Americans in a less than flattering fashion -- it does the same to whites. The novel has been made into countless versions of stage and screen productions and untold millions of young and old alike have enjoyed the novel. Attempting to deny that these conditions never existed is foolish.

What's also foolish is attempting to make conclusions for students without giving them the opportunity to make their own decisions, based on their experiences and observations.

Some educators in the district feel the novel is a good resource to get students to think about issues of race. We agree.

Giving in to political correctness is wrong. Mark Twain is among the greatest humorists and keen observers of human nature ever to be produced by our nation. Not exposing students to his work is a tragedy.