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Huck Finn Teacher's Guide
Culture Shock Introduction

The PBS film series Culture Shock tells the stories of four now-classic works of art that have been censored or challenged. Through painting, music, film, and literature, the series poses questions about art, censorship, and society that are still hotly debated today: What is the role of art in society? Can art change society or behavior? Should the arts ever be censored? Culture Shock explores the richness and complexity of these issues by examining the furor surrounding Manet's famous 1865 painting of a nude, Olympia; the "subversive" nature of 1920s jazz; the Production Code era of Hollywood movies; and the Mark Twain novel that has seemed "born to trouble" -- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Click here for more extensive descriptions of each film.

WGBH developed this teacher's guide to accompany one of the four Culture Shock films, Born to Trouble: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The guide focuses on Twain's famous novel-one of the most beloved and the most challenged novels in America-by exploring the controversy surrounding the book, then and now, and providing a comprehensive curriculum that places the book within its historical, literary, and cultural context. A guide to the entire Culture Shock series is also available.

Originally developed by the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, school district in response to objections to the book, the curriculum has enhanced both the teaching of the novel and communication among parents, teachers, and administrators. Many school districts have responded to complaints about the book by either ignoring parents' concerns or by removing the book from the curriculum. Instead, administrators, teachers, students, and parents in Cherry Hill came together to talk about their concerns.

The resulting curriculum, developed by two Cherry Hill high school English teachers and three professors from nearby Villanova University, provides imaginative lessons that deal with the objections about the book while maintaining the integrity of the novel as a work of literature. Our adaptation of the Cherry Hill curriculum contains additional readings, discussion questions, activities, and resources, and uses the documentary Born to Trouble: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to spark discussion.

Although teachers of Huck Finn may find the story of what happened at Cherry Hill especially helpful, the Cherry Hill case can also serve as a model for school communities faced with challenges to other topics, methods, or materials. In addition to the curriculum itself, the perspectives and advice offered by the participants may help other school districts turn a divisive issue into an opportunity for bringing people together. The story of Cherry Hill is thus not only about a new teaching approach but about tackling two of our most difficult dilemmas -- racism and censorship -- and creating new partnerships and a new kind of dialogue.

Like Kathy Monteiro, the Tempe, Arizona, parent featured in the film who objected to the book, parents in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, objected to Huck Finn on the grounds that "the prejudicial effect of the racial characterizations outweigh any literary value that the book might have." We have chosen to focus on the Cherry Hill case and curriculum because it presents an innovative approach to addressing the issues that are raised by using the book in the classroom. For more information about the outcome of the Monteiro case, click here.

Next: How to Use the Guide


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