Letter: Students cannot learn about racism from teachers who do not believe in it
To the editor,
I recently saw some online comments by a former high school teacher of mine which characterized the local protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder as overreactions, and the protestors as ignorant. I struggled to understand why this so deeply unsettled me until I remembered that this teacher’s curriculum includes (or at least did when I took their class) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
I do not remember any specific instances in which this white teacher handled the material carelessly, but that is quite possibly the point.
How can a book like Huckleberry Finn be properly contextualized without acknowledging the continuing criminalization of blackness in the fabric of the American economy? How can students adequately understand Colonel Sherburn’s escape from lynching without learning to recognize racial inequities in this country’s law enforcement practices? How can they comprehend the true horror of Tom turning Jim’s escape into a game if their teacher is unwilling to accept the existence of white privilege?
It is irresponsible to describe why Huck pretends to have recaptured Jim without explaining how the pre-emancipation Slave Codes began the evolution of legal, professionalized slave-catching into the modern American police force.
I did not, and could not, learn from reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in high school because I was instructed to read but not to understand. Students cannot learn about racism from teachers who do not believe in it. Educators cannot be effective if they refuse to educate themselves.
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