Mark Twain debate receives international attention

Yesterday the MPR website was host to a dynamic debate over whether or not it’s acceptable for Mark Twain’s classic “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to be reprinted with the word “nigger” (as well as the word “injun”) removed. While many oppose any changes to the classic, others argue the change would make it more easily accepted in school curricula, and therefor, more widely taught.

Today at noon, the conversation is going global. The BBC’s “World Have Your Say” is hosting a conversation about the proposed changes, and MPR is offering it online. Starting at noon click here to go to the audiolink and stream the conversation. I’ll be blogging live, updating this post as I go.

11:58 – The BBC story leading up to this conversation? How Romanian witches are threatening to curse the government after being threatened with taxation of their services…

12:00 – Facebook friend Linda Sue, upon hearing of the broadcast, comments:

I love the quandary we are in when we can’t say the “n” word aloud or type it when we are talking about how outraged we are that the “n” word has been censored. We live with dissonace – that’s just part of being a human being.

12:06 – and they’re beginning by getting feedback to yesterday’s piece on Pakistan… bear with us.

12:15 Looks like the Twain conversation will start at approximately 12:30. Sorry! But hey, I’m learning a lot about Pakistan…

12:30 – Alright, here we go…

Initial comments are similar to those who wrote in to MPR yesterday – saying we must respect the book.

FYI – “N word” is used approximately 219 times in Twain’s book.

12:34 – Kentucky publisher says she’s getting a lot of calls in response to the news – she was expecting a “slap” but was surprised at the extent of the response.

12:37 – According to publisher and Twain expert – At K-12 level, teachers are incredibly uncomfortable teaching the text… pre-emptive self-censorship because the literature had become “too difficult to teach”

Guest: Peter Messent joins the conversation, who has already written his thoughts on this debate in the Guardian.

12:40 – It seems that this argument falls into the ideal vs. the pragmatic – i.e. idealists say you should not make any changes, ever, while the pragmatists argue the changes would make the book more accessible and teachable.

Messent argues maybe you should just leave the book to University levels?

Kentucky publisher Suzanne LaRossa (sp?) says this move was in part to draw attention to the “dumbing down of our education system.”

Here’s the number to call – and BBC will call you back! 011-44-2070-83-72-72

Suzanne departs and now we’re joined by Dave Rosenthal at the Baltimore Sun, who has a contrary opinion:

‘I’m not big on censorship, but this word is so weighted that it gets in the way of a true discussion of the merits, but any teacher who assigns the new version should be required to explain the self-censorship. That way, at least, the tough prose won’t be completely white-washed.’

12:47 Messent says the British audience mustn’t forget just how incendiary the “n” word is in the United States. And Twain used the word deliberately to shock his readers into understanding its inhumanity.

Messent falters at stating the title the mystery “Ten Little Injuns” which has since been changed to “And then there were None” – Host agrees that it’s appropriate for them to not actually say the word in question!

12:52 – Interesting – host says if you want to learn more about the debate around the “n” word, you can find much more on the BBC news site, but I’m not seeing it…

12:53 – HOWEVER: here’s a great commentary on the topic by MPR’s own Brandt Williams from back in 2004.

12:54 – Great comment from Matt! He says this topic raises the issue that American teachers are being asked to sanitize issues to the point that they’re not even teachable.

12:55 – are there books in South Africa that have become controversial since Apartheid? South African guest says books shouldn’t be changed to they can understand the past, no matter what the present.

12:58 – Is it just me, or was that not nearly enough time to have this conversation?

In any case, you can continue the conversation with your thoughts, either here in the comment section, or over at “Today’s Question.”

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