This paper explores the harm of teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in public school classrooms. Such harm can be broadly described as emotional segregation, which occurs when society sanctions disrespect. To illustrate the effects of emotional segregation, this article explores the reaction Black students and parents have to the novel to that of White students and parents. White students eagerly imagine being Huck and going on his adventures. Black students, however, cannot and should not even be asked to try to imagine being Huck and betraying their racial identity. But then who are the Black students supposed to identify with as their White classmates enjoy the book? Jim, a slave? Is that healthy for Black students? What message does that teach children about race relations?
This article explores emotional segregation in a narrow context: emotional segregation of children based on race in public school classrooms, using Huckleberry Finn to develop the concept because of the novel's canonical status and widespread use in public schools. Should we remedy emotional segregation based on race? Emotional segregation may be considered solely a remnant of the legal subordination of Blacks under de jure segregation: a social harm model. Emotional segregation may be considered a continuing social and legal harm that is traceable to de jure segregation: a legal harm model. A legal harm model acknowledges that social and legal inequality are linked, and presupposes that legal remedies should exist to address the inequality. A legal harm model could define emotional segregation as a tort (emotional abuse) or as a violation of the constitutional right to equal protection, if caused by a state actor. It is important to stop emotional segregation as quickly as possible. This article invites scholars and practitioners to gain a better understanding of emotional segregation and help develop and promote a legal harm model.
Sharon E. Rush, Emotional Segregation: Huckleberry Finn in the Modern Classroom, 36 U. Mich. J.L. Reform 306 (2003), available at http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub/171