Teaching Controversial Lit without Flack

Here's a piece from the Orlando Sentinel about

the problem children of the classical canon. Beloved in their day, revered by critics, these troubled classics today face both genuine skepticism about their intent and the harsh light of scrutiny in an age of political correctness.

Nancy Rawles, who wrote a companion to Huck Finn, called "My Jim," says that

The Twain novel has remained a political football because "the deeper argument is alive in the school and in the society, and the book becomes symbolic for that argument -- race -- which is one of the most emotional in American life," Rawles says.

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Classics can Endure

The polarization of political opinion greatly contributes to the problem of teaching classics. Unfortunately some teachers and educators use these books to help promote other agendas. Analogies are personal and cannot be expected to be accepted by all. For example, The Merchant of Venice truly highlights many aspects of anti-semitism. I know a Rabbi who felt that the famous soliloquy about a Jew is very deep and in fact is against anti-semitism. I once saw a production of the play with people in modern clothing, it was quite deep and dealt effectively with the subject.
Classics are written in the historical perspective of their time. If teachers taught them in that context the controversy would be lessened. It should also be noted that age and maturity of the students should be considered when these works are taught. It is in the same way that the professional mission of libraries get skewed when used as political ammunition. That is why there was less controversy in the past. Everything today is political and has political ramifications.

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