In the classroom, I’m more interested in setting the stage for a good discussion than I am in making points about academic freedom. Even if I thought, with the comedian Lenny Bruce, that using racial epithets mockingly deprived them of their power, I wouldn’t act on that belief in my classroom. And although Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, which I teach often, includes more than 200 uses of the n-word, I don’t, even when reading aloud, use it myself. Like it or not, conditions are such that choosing to utter the word, even while reading aloud from a book that uses it, can derail discussion of anything other than that choice.

Removing the term from the text—which has been done—falsifies the novel. But there’s nothing important I can add to Twain by saying the n-word aloud. And I sympathize with students who find the word revolting—revolting words and images can be revolting even when they’re presented for a good reason. When to present them is a matter about which reasonable teachers disagree.

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