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A project of the National Coalition Against Censorship

CO-SPONSORED BY
American Booksellers for Free Expression
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Association of American Publishers

December 17, 2015


Art Hall
Upper School Principal
Friends Central School
1101 City Avenue
Wynnewood, PA 19096
Via email: communications@friendscentral.org

Dear Mr. Hall,


As organizations dedicated to the freedom to read, the integrity of the educational system, and the value of
free speech principles in education, we are writing to express concern regarding the removal of Mark
Twains The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from Friends Central Schools (FCS) 11th grade American
literature curriculum.
According to press reports, the book, which was to be taught alongside the Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglass1, was removed from the curriculum after a group of students said it made them
uncomfortable. Apparently the books use of the word nigger was challenging for some students. A
letter to parents stated that the administration had come to the conclusion that the community costs of
reading this book in 11th grade outweigh the literary benefits.
The pedagogical and literary merit of Huckleberry Finn, one of the classics of American literature, is
indisputable, which is why it has been part of the curriculum in schools across the country for many
decades. Of course, it presents many challenges to students which are best addressed in the classroom
and with the help of a teacher. As noted Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin explained, Huckleberry
Finn remains a hard book to read and a hard book to teach. If we lived in a world in which racism had
been eliminated generations before, teaching Huck Finn would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately thats not
the world we live in.
Indeed, at a time of difficult and polarizing conversations about race, it is understandable that a novel
which repeatedly uses a highly offensive slur would generate discomfort. But does the discomfort caused
by the language or the ambiguities of the novels narrative outweigh the value of teaching the book?
Attempts to remove books from schools invariably claim that an idea or image offends or disturbs. But
acceding to such demands denies everyone the students protesting as well as those who would want to
read the book an opportunity to engage with the text in a meaningful way.
A pedagogically sound approach to curricular selections requires educational professionals to ask whether
a book is relevant to the students, not whether it is comfortable. And Huckleberry Finns complex
examination of race relations at a fraught moment in the countrys history makes it particularly relevant

1 According to the Friends Central Schools Texts for American Literature 2015-2016:

https://www.friendscentral.org/uploaded/Campus_Life/Documents/2015-2016/Grade_11-AmericanLiteratureTexts2015-2016.pdf

today. As Nobel Prize Laureate Toni Morrison wrote, in addition to the reverence the novel stimulates is
its ability to transform its contradictions into fruitful complexities and to seem to be deliberately
cooperating in the controversy it has excited. The brilliance of Huckleberry Finn is that it is the argument
it raises. Indeed, the challenge of reading Huck Finn is the reason why it should be read within the
classroom, where its complexities and ambivalences can be contextualized and examined.
We appreciate FCSs efforts to ask that students stand up for what they believe, and, as the schools
vision statement puts it, [t]o awaken courage and intellect and peacefully transform the world. But to
transform the world one needs to be ready to fearlessly confront its contradictions and historical burdens
especially as they are encoded in the nations literary canon. As novelist and PEN/Faulkner Award winner
David Bradley said,
Huckleberry Finn should be taught because it is a seminal and central text in White American
Literature. Huckleberry Finn should be taught because it is a seminal and central text in Black
American Literature. Huckleberry Finn must be taught because it is a specific point of intersection
between these two American Literatures.
We are sure that as FCS and its teachers continue to strive to challenge your students, you will seek to also
teach them that the discomfort of living in a society where racial tensions persist will not be resolved by
the banishment of literary classics from the classroom. We urge you to restore The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn to the 11th grade American literature curriculum in keeping with sound educational and
free speech principles.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of further assistance.
Sincerely,

Svetlana Mintcheva, Director of Programs


National Coalition Against Censorship

Chris Finan, Director


American Booksellers for Free Expression

Judy Platt, Director


Free Expression Advocacy
Association of American Publishers

Charles Brownstein, Executive Director


Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

CC: Craig Sellers, Head of School

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