The history of the American experience is complicated. It has more than its share of battle scars, bumps in the road and episodes of downright darkness.
Some of that history is reflected in the long-taught landmark pieces of American literature, pieces that were written at a different time, from a different perspective, providing a window into where our nation has been on its journey to the present — and in some cases, illustrating work still to be done.
Works like “Of Mice and Men,” “Huckleberry Finn“ and “To Kill a Mockingbird” have long been staples of American literature classes. If you’re over a certain age, it’s almost a sure bet that you read each of them at some point in junior high or high school.
But, by modern standards, they are far from politically correct. For example, while the tale of Huck Finn’s adventures is arguably anti-racist and anti-slavery, it still comes under fire for its use of racial slurs and stereotypes.
Periodically, educators hear complaints from parents who object to some of the content, primarily for the books’ portrayal of Black people from a white perspective — and for their inclusion of language that is rightly considered offensive in today’s world.
Those concerns should not be dismissed. Nor should the role of these books in the history and evolution of American literature.
How to resolve that conflict is a question that has come home to roost in the William S. Hart Union High School District, which has put the books on a time out.
The trio of works have been “paused” from the district’s list of mandatory readings as district leadership weighs whether to include them in the future. They aren’t “banned,” per se — at least not yet — as they are still available to be checked out from the district’s libraries.
Frankly, we’d rather see the books used as teaching tools as opposed to options for unsupervised reading. And that’s the point: These books should not be banned, not only because of their role in the history in the evolution of American literature, but also because of their value as productive and educational conversation starters. What can be learned from them, about our past, our present and what our future should look like? How do these works “age” when juxtaposed against more modern, more evolved readings?
Those kinds of conversations are much more valuable than simply pretending the books never existed and never had an impact — for better or for worse — on our society.
We hope the Hart district will carefully weigh any future decisions — and recognize that there’s more to be learned from reading these books than canceling them.