Huck Finn Mock Trial At Mamaroneck High School

High School debates Mark Twain, Huck Finn and racism in mock trial
Huck Finn Mock Trial at Mamaroneck High School
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America has finally broken down the racial barrier to the highest office in the land, but the debate as to whether students should explore American racism through the reading of Huckleberry Finn probably will never end.  Against that backdrop, Mamaroneck High School English Teacher Dr. Victor Maxwell uses the ongoing controversy to engage his students more thoroughly in the material but also to make sure students understand both sides of the argument with a mock trial.  "We need to have an ongoing conversation that's sensitive to our differences," he says, and in doing so, the class based the proceedings (with

the help of the school librarian, Tina Pantginis) on several court cases involving the book's banning.

Prior to the appearance of the former Teacher Supervisor of the New York City Public School system, Dr. Charlotte Frank, the defense presented its complaint in words of a fictional parent.  “I can’t completely stop my child from being exposed to offensive language like the n-word on TV and in the movies, but I shouldn’t have to worry about them reading it in books taught in the school,” testified a student in portrayal.

In addition, the student defense presented expert sociological testimony that some children tend to identify with the racist elements of Huck’s character, while the stereotypical caricature of Jim is demeaning and not ne cessarily representative of a 19th century slave.  Furthermore, the mock sociologist also raised concerns over the child who does not have enough parental support to appropriately guide them through the content.

Nonetheless, Dr. Frank took the stand in defense of what some consider a defective learning tool and testified to what's at stake if the points of contention are not exploited as a chance for growth and understanding.  "You lose an opportunity for our young people to confront delicate issues," she said, and it's up to educational infrastructure to assimilate the themes and their relationship to today's world, regardless of the circumstance of the student, she added.

Pragmatically, she put forth that the novel also

provides a blueprint that addresses the manner in which we can overcome the prejudices still plaguing our society.  In navigating the river, she said, “Do they suddenly see each other differently20and somehow we also have to attack the biases we inherit.”

And the actual history can come across more clearly in the applied format that the novel offers.  “You suddenly see they are real human beings,” she said, and context can paint a picture as well or better than a textbook for some students, she added.

All in all, Dr. Frank, who is the Senior Vice President for the McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, believes Huck Finn plays an important role in the educational process of both bringing students a “body of knowledge” and developing a set of skills that hopefully enable them to interpret what’s happening around them. “Education is to truly make us understand human beings and that’s what this is,” she said.

In conclusion, three classes that took part in the trial did not come to a consensus on whether t he classic should be viewed within the context of its time and used as an a ppropriate learning tool or discarded because its insensitive nature and possible negative influence is not conducive to the accepted norms of society today.  One class voted to ban, one to keep in the curriculum and one was deadlocked.  And in that, Dr. Maxwell says to got the conversation he was looking for.

My article originally appeared at

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