CENSORSHIP and Mark Twain's
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Research Scenario

Book Cover Censored

Since it was first published in 1885, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain has been one of the most frequently challenged and banned books in America. The classic novel was #14 on the American Library Association's Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for the decade between 2000-2009. According to the ALA, "A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others." Book banning is a form of censorship, the official prohibition or restriction of any type of expression (such as literature) believed to threaten the political, social, or moral order.

Throughout history, various people and groups have challenged books like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because they contain information, ideas, or language that conflicts with their own values and beliefs. Huckleberry Finn remains one of the most controversial novels in classrooms and on school library shelves; the main criticism is Twain's treatment of the theme of race and his use of racial slurs in reference to African Americans, Native Americans, and poor white Americans. Although the novel is written in the vernacular of its historical setting and the time period in which it was written, people today find this language offensive. Some people believe the novel condones or promotes racism.

Is censorship in schools necessary to protect students? Should certain books be banned in schools? Suppose Huckleberry Finn was challenged at your own school this year. Would you argue in favor of or against banning the book? Each person may answer these questions differently. You will need to develop some background knowledge about censorship, book-banning, and Mark Twain's novel, and examine these issues from a variety of perspectives, in order to decide for yourself:

Should Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
be included in the high school English curriculum? Why or why not?
Task and Product

 

Your task is to conduct research about the issues of censorship and book banning in general, and about the merits and criticisms of Mark Twain's novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Your research findings will help you to think critically about these issues. Then you will write an argumentative research paper in order to express and support your position on whether this novel should be included in the high school English curriculum.

Your teacher will inform you of the due date for your paper and schedule for using the computer lab during class time. You will need to do some of this work outside of class. You can access this research model online from home or outside of school at
http://www.bcps.org/offices/lis/models/twain/index.html. Your teacher or library media specialist will provide you with the login protocols needed for home access to the BCPS online research databases. Your library media specialist can tell you when you may have access to school library computers and resources after school.

Assessments

These scoring tools may be used or adapted by your teacher to evaluate your research process, group collaboration, and argumentative research paper.

Research Process Assessments:
  • Daily (Formative) Assessments
  • Research Process (Summative) Assessments: Student/Self Teacher

Group Collaboration Assessments: Student/Self Teacher

Researched Argument Paper Assessment:

Questions

Essential Question:

Should Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
be included in the high school English curriculum? Why or why not?

Research Questions:
Use these questions to focus your research, and generate some questions of your own about the issues of censorship, book banning, and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Questions about Censorship and Book Banning:

  1. Why do some people support banning certain books in schools?
  2. Why do other people oppose banning books in schools?
  3. What are the legal rights of students regarding intellectual freedom and access to information and ideas in school? Would excluding Huckleberry Finn from the high school English curriculum violate these rights?
  4. What are the policies of the Baltimore County Public schools with regard to the selection of instructional materials and the teaching of controversial issues? Does including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the grade 11 English curriculum comply with these policies?

Questions about Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

  1. When, where, and why has Adventures of Huckleberry Finn been challenged or banned since it was first published in 1885?
  2. Why is the teaching and reading of Huckleberry Finn so controversial?
  3. What were Mark Twain's views on race and slavery?
  4. Why do teachers and scholars in the field of American Literature consider it important for students to read and study Huckleberry Finn?
Gather and Sort

Guidelines for gathering and sorting information:

Take notes and sort your research findings using this Cornell Notes sheet, notecards, or another note-taking method suggested by your teacher.

  • Include various types of evidence in your notes: arguments, facts, statistics, expert opinions/quotes, laws and policies, and primary source material such as examples from the text of the Huck Finn novel.

Avoid plagiarism by quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing main ideas and key details from sources, and by citing your information sources in a Bibliography.

  • Pre-formatted citations are included in the database articles; you can just copy and paste these citations into a working Bibliography document in Microsoft Word.
  • For websites, use a citation guide or an online citation generator to format Bibliography citations, as recommended by your teacher or library media specialist.

Gather information from a variety of sources on the Student Resources Page.

Organize

Analyze your individual research notes to determine if you have sufficient information to develop an informed opinion about the censorship issue and the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

  • Do your notes enable you to answer each of your research focus questions?
  • Are you missing any information which would help you to form an opinion?
  • Based on what you have read and learned about these issues, what is your opinion in response to the essential question? Should Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn be included in the high school English curriculum?

Organize your research findings and locate evidence to support your opinion using one or more of these pre-writing resources and tools, as directed by your teacher.

  • Read about How to Build an Argument.
  • Use this Writing a Thesis Statement worksheet to state your stance on the issue and illustrate how you intend to support your position. Base your thesis statement on your answer to the essential question: Should Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn be included in the high school English curriculum?
  • Use this Arguments and Supporting Evidence worksheet to list each of the arguments you will make to support your thesis.  Then, list 2-3 documented facts to support each of those arguments.  Record the type of evidence you have gathered;refer to the Types of Evidence key on the worksheet.  Ensure that you are supporting your arguments with a variety of evidence types.
  • Use one of these organizer, or another organizer recommended by your teacher, to structure your paper:

Synthesize your research findings by writing an argumentative research paper either in favor of or against including Mark Twain's novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the high school English curriculum. Support your argument with details and examples from your research.

  • Use to this Synthesize and Compose worksheet to write and evaluate your first draft. You may also refer to How to Write a Conclusion.
  • Have a classmate peer review your completed draft; make revisions and edit as needed.
  • Refer to any additional guidelines and the scoring tool as set by your teacher to ensure you meet all the requirements for the paper.
  • Complete your final draft.
Conclusion

Present or publish your argument to share your viewpoint with classmates. Your teacher may have you share your work in one of these formats:

Reflect on your learning about the issue of censorship and banned books, the arguments presented by your classmates, and your own experience of reading the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

  • Did any of your classmates' arguments sway your opinion about including this novel in the high school English curriculum? Why or why not?
  • Has reading the novel yourself affected your opinion about whether the book should be read and studied in high school English classes? If so, how?
  • How has reading and learning about this book affected you in general?
    • Are there elements in the story that resonate with your own life experience and the world today? If so, how?
    • How would you have been affected if you had NOT read and learned about this book?

Enrich your learning by collaborating with classmates to create an interactive timeline documenting and illustrating all the challenges to Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, from the first challenge in 1885 to the present. Use students' notes from this research model and resources on the Student Resources page, and search for additional information and pictures to document when, where, and why the book was challenged or banned.

Extend your learning by finding out more about Banned Books Week and other books that have been frequently challenged or banned. Find out whether these books are available in your school library.