Sunday, January 16, 2011

Huck's fate

The other day, an instructional aide at my school asked me how I felt about new revisions to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. "I think it's horrible," I replied. "It's censorship!" Seemed like a no-brainer.

Happily, I actually got a few seconds to scan the New York Times' Sunday Opinion today and had a chance to read a more nuanced view of the situation. I've been thinking a lot about how we need to revolutionize the way we teach reading and novels in high school, and there's plenty of food for thought in writer Lorrie Moore's excellent take on the Twain debate -- and the issue of "the n word" -- "Send Huck Finn to College."

Here's an excerpt from Moore's piece:

"There are other books more appropriate for an introduction to serious reading. (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” with its social-class caricatures and racially na├»ve narrator, is not one of them.) Sherman Alexie’s “Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which vibrantly speaks to every teenager’s predicament when achievement in life is at odds with the demoralized condition of his peer group, is a welcoming book for boys. There must certainly be others and their titles should be shared. Teachers I meet everywhere are always asking, How can we get boys to read? And the answer is, simply, book by book."

She's speaking as a mother who has, first-hand, experienced the withering impact of giving a child the wrong book at the wrong time. (She seems to have a black son, to whom the novel's language has a special sting -- though the term is used promiscuously in the hip-hop he listens to.)

To read the entire article, click here. Moore, an amazing short story writer, wrote the powerful The Gate at the Stairs, one of the most brutal and beautiful novels that I've read in the past decade.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brown's Brutal Cuts

It's hard to envision where California will be in five years after the reality of cuts upon cuts transforms our already troubled state. Governor Brown's cuts come on top of devastating library layoffs and weekly closures and they will take down literacy programs.

What will happen when people become used to a closed library and what will be the percentage of the populace who struggles to read -- or is entirely illiterate?

Click here to read the Library Journal's account of exactly where these cuts will hit.

In the article, Paymaneh Maghsoud, head of the California Library Association, says that libraries have done more than their fair share in placing their people and programs on the state chopping block:

"The revelation ... that Governor Brown is proposing to eliminate all $30 million in state funding for three of California's most valuable public library programs both disastrous and disheartening," she said in a press release.

Maghsoudi said that library funding had already been cut 75 percent under the two previous administrations.

"The public libraries have done more than their share to assist with the budget deficit over the years by absorbing painful cuts," she said. "The time has come to stop the bleeding and CLA respectfully asks the members of the legislature to oppose these proposed cuts to our valuable programs."