21st-Century Students Respond to Sensitive Texts

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week, Jocelyn Chadwick responded to the recent removal of “sensitive texts,” including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, from the curriculum in Duluth Public Schools by asking “When will WE listen?” This week, Dr. Chadwick and John E. Grassie, co-authors of Teaching Literature in the Context of Literacy Instructionshare with us the voices of some of the students who they have been listening to as they tour U.S. classrooms.



In so many ways and for so many reasons, we practitioners of English language arts find ourselves not only explaining what we do and how we do it but also be asked to explicate in detail just how our discipline, K-16, provides a lifelong foundation for children — cradle to grave. The time has indeed come for us to review, reflect upon, and define what we do, and why what we do IS critical to daily living, college, and career. We must provide these answers in words and from voices that parents, the community, local, state and federal leaders and policymakers can understand, as Jim says, “by de back.”

To make the argument reliable and powerful, no voices can be as explicatory and definitive as our students’. This video provides some of the compacted insight of students from around the country, who explain why they should be allowed to read sensitive, uncomfortable texts. We work with these teachers and students, and so many more. Listening to students, empowering them to rethink, reanalyze, and reevaluate these cherished texts. Through the distinct experiences of this generation of students old texts relevant are made newly relevant.



Jocelyn A. Chadwick is a life-long English teacher and scholar. She is currently President of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and is a form Professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she still lectures occasionally. She has worked with Ken Burns and PBS (WGBH, WNET), and is currently a consultant with NBC News Education and NBC Learn. She was panel member for the series Celebrating America’s Authors, and an invited guest at the White House. Among her published works are The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, Common Core: Paradigmatic Shiftsand numerous articles on education and Mark Twain. She is currently working on a new book, entitled Writing for Life: Using Literature to Teach Writing.