A Fairfax County area school superintendent yesterday rejected a recommendation from the principal of Mark Twain Intermediate School that "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" be dropped from the school's curriculum as racist.
In a memo to Twain principal John Martin, Area 1 school superintendent Doris Torrice said the classic American novel written by the school's namesake could be taught with "appropriate planning."
"In this case as in all others," Torrice's memo said, "it is the responsibility of the teacher to assist students in understanding the historical setting of the novel, the characters being depicted, and the social context, including the prejudice which existed at the time depicted in the book.
"Balanced judgment on the part of the classroom teacher must be used prior to making a decision to utilize this material in the intermediate school program. Such judgment would include taking into account the age and maturity of the students, their ability to comprehend abstract concepts and the methodology of presentation.
"I do not feel it is appropriate to prohibit intermediate school students from reading 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' in a proper instructional setting."
A member of the racially mixed Twain Human Relations Committee that recommended the book be banned from mandatory classroom assignments said yesterday the administrative decision would be appealed. John H. Wallace, a Twain administrative aide who spearheaded the move to banish the book from the curriculum, said a formal appeal will be sent to school Superintendent Linton Deck today.
"We're going to go to the school board and get them into the position where they will have to make a decision one way or the other," Wallace said. "We have not abrogated anybody's First Amendment rights. We've just said we don't want any kid to be forced to read this racist trash."
Twain principal Martin said yesterday that Torrice's guidelines "will now be used in teaching the book.. . . I just met with our team teaching leaders and their statement is that there are no hard feelings about the decision."
Martin's recommendation that the novel be dropped from his school's curriculum followed a report from the Human Relations Committee, which objected to "the flagrant use of the word 'nigger' and the demeaning way in which black people are portrayed in the book."
Martin sent the report to another committee of faculty, parents and administrators, which affirmed the recommendation. He then asked the county school administration last week to bar his teachers from assigning the novel or reading it aloud in class, although the book would remain in the school library and on its supplementary reading lists and could be discussed in class as part of the body of Twain's work.
"We're delighted with the decision, but regret it ever had to reach this stage," said Chan Kendrick, executive director of the Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's probably been an educational experience for the students and for not a few adults, and it also shows there are First Amendment problems from both sides of the political spectrum."
"This was a wise decision to give the teachers the ability to teach all aspects of history--those we're proud of as well as those we are now ashamed of," said Barby Halstead, executive director of the 6,200-member Fairfax Education Association, a teachers' group. "We support what she Torrice has done giving teachers the flexibility and freedom to determine what's appropriate reading in their classrooms."
Robert E. Frye, the only black member of the Fairfax School Board, said, "I don't think the book should have been banned." He said, however, that black students and parents have frequently expressed concern about the way slavery is covered in books and other materials used in classrooms.
"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" has generated controversy in the past because of its characterization of blacks, although when the book was published in 1884 it was considered progresssive for the way it portrayed the injustice of racial prejudice. The novel, written by Samuel L. Clemens under the pen name Mark Twain, is widely recognized as one of the greatest works of American fiction.
Written in Twain's famous satirical style, it tells the story of a young runaway, Huck Finn, who meets Jim, a runaway slave. Together they float down the Mississippi on a raft and the innocent Huck encounters corruption, moral decay and the evils of slavery for the first time. Huck learns of the dignity and worth of human life from Jim.