Huckleberry Finn, “African-American” Jim, and Academic Achievement Scores

Warren Lee Culpepper

Twain’s 1884 classic opens with a warning to the readers who attempt to find a “motive, a moral, or a plot” to the story. The key word in the sentence is “attempting.” Clearly, those readers who fail to find all three elements are the mentally encumbered morons to whom Twain refers, when he states he would just as well see them “prosecuted, banished, or shot.” To miss these literary elements in the book would require tremendous effort or just sheer idiocy.

In today’s politically correct (PC), multi-cultural, intolerant-tolerant, and over-sensitive climate, children are fortunate if they ever have the opportunity to read this historically controversial book. Today most of the controversy surrounds the repugnance of the word “nigger” (a degrading brand suggesting a human being is not a human being). To defend including the novel in a school curriculum, some suggest looking past the word because of its historical context. Other educators sugarcoat the issue by replacing the word with today’s PC term “African-American.” Their students giggle or grimace and then struggle through the rest of Huck’s funny yet disconcerting narrative. But since the story demonstrates how an uneducated white boy unlearns everything he’s ever been taught about blacks — thanks to a black, truly human character named Nigger Jim — wasn’t Twain’s point to offend us? Do you really think Twain believed the word “nigger” was just contextually accurate? Do you really think Twain approved of its common use during his lifetime? If one character in the entire story seemed incapable of being human it was Pap — the child abusing, drunk racist, and dirty thief (Huck’s white father).

While many lessons pervade the book, a primary theme addresses the division of America by race — fueled by one incredibly divisive word. Today, however, our PC disciples purport to have improved this divide through all their multi-cultural nonsense — but only when the claim behooves their agenda. The dark irony is that their foolish doctrine actually inflames greater division among all racial groups, but that shouldn’t be surprising; it’s painfully obvious to any of us with common sense. However, because these weak-stomached, PC disciples have successfully censored Twain’s novel in the name of tolerance, far too many Americans – note American should never be hyphenated — have never learned how Huck and Jim’s relationship serves to teach us an important life lesson: “people are people.” And all of us fall short of being truly good. We all struggle with our own humiliating blemishes.

Coincidentally, a principal at Northern California’s Mt. Diablo High School, Bev Hansen, has recently stirred up some multi-cultural controversy. She’s defending her recent decision to ethnically separate students before delivering the results of an academic achievement test. She claims she was trying to protect students from being harassed over scoring gaps between racial groups. Once again, the foolishness of political correctness and the absence of Huck and Jim’s lessons lurk in her decision.

Since Asian students (“oriental” being more precise, but not PC) scored highest followed by whites, blacks, and then Hispanics — the students should have been asked, not separated, “Based on these results, who among you would you conclude devotes the most time studying?” This is less about ethnicity or basic intelligence, as it is more about appreciating education. Regardless of a student’s ethnicity — individual hard work, focus, and accountability must be stressed for students to succeed.

Regardless of the academic focus or lack there of at home, teachers must be the next link in a chain of authority and leadership instilling these traits in students while constantly stressing the value of education. Education, not ethnic pride, will lead children from poverty. Perhaps Huck’s intellectual freedom and Jim’s personal freedom revealed at the novel’s end symbolize this lesson regarding their education’s value – an education acquired “together” through their common adventures, not their diverse adventures.

In case a reader is merely attempting to find my moral, I’ll have to spell it out: high-test scores should be publicly lauded. Low-test scores should be publicly addressed. Everyone’s desire for praise and everyone’s fear of criticism are effective motivators. Quit censoring the truth. Twain would have reveled in the exasperation suffered by PC believers, or he would have just as soon ordered them shot. Twain’s disdain for imprudent do-gooders and common idiots stemmed from his desire to protect America from further harm their foolish ideology inflicts on a troubled civilization (ironically a synonym for today’s choice word: culture). No wonder Huck hated going to school.
Warren Lee Culpepper is currently writing his first book, Alone and Unafraid: One Marine’s Counterattack Inside the Walls of Public Education. Additionally, he is a contributing columnist for The Publius’ Forum, The North Carolina Conservative, and The Hinzsight Report.

A 1991 graduate of Virginia Tech, Culpepper majored in both English and Communication. He was also a varsity wrestler. He attended the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia, and received his commission in 1993. He served four years on active duty before settling in southern California to begin his teaching career. He taught high school English in both California and Texas. He recently moved to eastern North Carolina with his wife, Heather, and their bulldog, Shrek.

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