Is Huck Finn too hard?

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is too difficult for high schoolers, argues Kent Oswald in Education Week Teacher. He fears it will ruin “teens’ potential interest in serious reading.”

. . . during and after their two-chapter-a-night, test-in-three-weeks slog through The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, few high schoolers gain any sense of why Twain is revered, understand what the book is even about, or have their thinking changed by absorbing how differing contexts have made the tale controversial from its time through today. . . . Potential barriers for teen readers include Twain’s use of highly colloquial period-speech and subtle subversion of the religious and slaveholding conventions of his contemporaries, not to mention some highly dense sections. So where is the rationale for forcing teens to read a book whose story is more or less simple but whose context is more complex than most of them are prepared for?

Twain wrote more accessible books and short stories, writes Oswald, who is described as a freelance writer with a master’s in teaching who works (doing what?) “in the White Plains, N.Y., school system.”

In the comments, several teachers say their students enjoy Huck Finn and the discussions it fosters about race.

Yes, I was a precocious reader, but I first read Huckleberry Finn in elementary school. When Huck thinks he’s sinned by helping Jim and decides he’ll willing to go to hell for it . . . I got it. I can’t believe high school students –with a teacher’s help — can’t understand it. At the end, Tom Sawyer says nobody was killed in a steamship accident, then says a slave died. That shocked me. But I got it.

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