DEFENSE ATTORNEY Callum Gould makes his opening remarks in the mock trial that will determine if “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is appropriate for Freeport students.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY Callum Gould makes his opening remarks in the mock trial that will determine if “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is appropriate for Freeport students.

‘N word’ at center of case

FREEPORT

T hree students at Freeport High

School were called to jury duty

Wednesday afternoon, along with five members of the public.

Their case: To decide if Mark Twain’s much-debated classic, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” should be required reading at their school.

Escorted by the “court bailiff,” student “jurors” solemnly walked single-file to their seats, and so began a mock trial organized by teachers of the school’s American studies class — a combined U.S. history and American literature course.

“Let me remind you of the importance of the oath which you took,” said American

Literature teacher and “trial judge” Richard Robinson, addressing the jurors, “and that your deliberations are secret and that it is a criminal offense to reveal any information about your deliberations.”

Attired in suits and ties, on Wednesday and Thursday student “lawyers” presented both sides of the debate before Robinson, clad in judicial robes; U.S. History teacher and “bailiff” Charlie Mellon; student witnesses and “jurors.”

Originally published in the United States in 1885, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” has been lauded as a true American classic — and one of the first to be written in the genuine vernacular of the post-Civil War South.

It is exactly this vernacular that calls its suitability into question, specifically revolving around the use of the “N word” which appears 219 times in the novel.

The prosecution’s argument, presented by Freeport High School juniors Daniel Sinclair and Seth Jones, stated that the novel should be banned from being taught on the grounds of lewdness, improper grammar and repeated use of the N word.

“Defense attorney” Callum Gould and his co-counsel argued that Huckleberry Finn was a valuable resource for students and teachers and an accurate depiction of a historical time and place.

“This book has changed people opinions on slavery,” said Gould, arguing that banning the book was a violation of First Amendment rights and tantamount to “banning the country’s history.”

Several witnesses were called by the prosecution and multiple exhibits entered into evidence.

The lynchpin of the case was the final witness: a fictitious 32-year-old Freeport High School “teacher” portrayed by student Virginia Fullagar.

“He (Huckleberry Finn) is an immoral young boy, he’s illiterate, he has no respect for education or authority. He repeatedly lies, uses vulgar language, and poor grammar,” said Fullagar, arguing that the protagonist set a bad example for students.

The witnesses’ characters were developed by the American studies students who were asked to brainstorm the five primary arguments for and against banning the book, and to develop backstories for witnesses who could best present those arguments.

The final blow is dealt when Sinclair weighs the merits of the novel against the school’s own rubric for banning or selecting a book for use in the curriculum.

“Do you believe that this text ‘fosters global awareness, understanding, respect and appreciation for cultural diversity?’” said Sinclair.

When the witness answered with an emphatic “No,” Sinclair returned to his seat saying, “Thank you. No further questions.”

This is not the first time the work of Mark Twain has faced censure. “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” met opposition in March 1885, one month after its publication date, when it was banned from the public library in Concord, Mass., where a committee member described the book as “trash,” and “of a class that is more profitable for the slums than it is for respectable people.”

The NAACP has tried to have “Huckleberry Finn” banned in public schools beginning in 1957 on the basis of its persistent use of racial slurs.

In 1998, the Pennsylvania NAACP called on schools to drop the novel from required reading lists, saying, “The psychologically damaging effect of this term on African-American children’s self-esteem has been well documented.”

Though originally the national NAACP supported this stance, it’s since adopted a position more aligned with Freeport High School’s “defense attorneys.”

Their current position paper states: “You don’t ban Mark Twain — you explain Mark Twain! To study an idea is not necessarily to endorse the idea.”

Their characters set aside, the majority of American studies students tended to agree with the defense.

“I think a lot of kids just don’t really think about it,” said student Nick Wilson, who also portrays a witness. “It’s not about the words, it’s about the message.”

[email protected]timesrecord.com


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: