What time is it? It’s T-SHIRT TIME!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

What? You don’t think the time between New Year’s and Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the best time of the year?

Then clearly you don’t know that it’s…

T-SHIRT TIME!

Oh yeah! Jersey Shore, yeah! (To be said in a Pauly D voice of course.)

Okay, I know what you’re thinking (because I’m psychic, remember?). You’re thinking that Mark Twain is rolling over in his grave even more than he was over the news of the last few days at the idea that my last blog was about Huckleberry Finn and this one is about the trashiest people/place on earth.

But I would make the argument that just as the “n” word is necessary to show the extreme racism and intolerance of the antebellum south, Jersey Shore is necessary to show future generations the idiocy of our current society. Because really, how else will people be able to justify things like Twilight, Snuggies, Scientology, the war in Iraq, Mel Gibson, the Shake Weight, and Pajama Jeans in 150 years if they can’t see the cast of Jersey Shore?

That’s right. I’m saying Jersey Shore is our generation’s Huck Finn.

No, not really. I’m just trying to justify how much I love it. Because I do love it. A lot.

With that said, I think this season is going to be worse than Ronnie and Sammi’s relationship. Which puts it on the Dyson level of sucking, because like Ronnie and Sammi, a Dyson NEVER loses its suction power. (Yes, I watched the Jersey Shore marathon when I was sick over winter break. Yes, it lowered my IQ, hence the vacuum cleaner joke. Sorry. I’ll go read some Shakespeare this weekend to restore some of my mental abilities.)

Not that I think it’ll be the last season. Oh no. MTV is going to milk this goose that lays the golden eggs for as long as they can. Wait. That’s not right. Milk this money tree? Stupid Jersey Shore! Me were not dumb before yous.

I am excited to see what this season brings, but I think they already covered everything that they could in the first two seasons. Every possible heterosexual hookup combination in the house has happened. All of the girls have gotten into hair-pulling fights with each other (resulting in hair extensions and broken acrylic nails everywhere. Oh the humanity. Although Ronnie’s description of Snooki as fighting like a T-Rex with the tiny little arms qualifies as one of the funniest moments in all of television history).

All of the guys have gotten into screaming matches with each of the girls and then been punched/slapped by each of the girls. Angelina has left the show early. Twice. We’ve seen J-Woww’s boobs (sorry honey, I love you, but pasties don’t count as a shirt. Even at the strip club), we’ve seen Snooki’s crotch, we know about Pauly’s special piercing, and we’ve heard Snooki’s description of Vinny’s—um—appendage, and if the Situation ever robbed a liquor store and people were looking for him, everyone in America could describe his abs well enough to a sketch artist that he’d be caught within about 30 seconds.

I mean, honestly, unless they get into same-sex hookups, start shooting up heroin on camera, or go on a massive killing spree, I can’t imagine this season providing us with anything new.

But don’t worry MTV, I have ideas that can make sure this trainwreck keeps jumping the rails.

For example, season four shouldn’t be in Seaside Heights or Miami. Been there, done that. I want to drop the cast off in the Andes in winter and see who survives. Okay, it’s a little predictable, because clearly they’ll kill and eat Snooki first. Unless Angelina was there. They’d kill her first–not for food, because I’m pretty sure she’d be poisonous, but because she’s awful. And I’m pretty sure that Pauly D is indestructible because his hair serves as a permanent helmet, and J-Woww is more plastic than human, so I’m not sure she CAN die. But I think people would tune in to watch that.

Or make them be homeless for a season. I’m not going to lie, I’d absolutely tune in every week to see how they’d get by living in a cardboard box under a bridge. And Snooki wouldn’t have to complain about the tax on tanning if she lived outdoors. Have you ever taken a good look at homeless people? They’re the only ones with a darker tan than the Jersey Shore cast.

Wait, scratch that one. Homeless people have it hard enough without dropping that kind of drama bomb on them.

They’ve got the right idea with adding a new cast member, but I don’t think Deena is going to work out. Because after just one episode, I already think deserves the death penalty. Literally. I didn’t think it was possible to get worse than Angelina. Thank you, MTV, for providing me with proof that humanity is doomed.  Although I’d still take her over Sammi any day… what is WRONG with that girl?

I want to see Samuel L. Jackson living in the house with them next season. Think about how mad he got about those m#$*%#$@#&ing snakes on that m#$*%#$@#&ing plane. I would pay good money to see how he handles the current cast members when they get drunk and start fighting.

Of course, at most, there are only going to be another two or three seasons. Not because MTV will ever cancel the show, but because all of the cast members currently have book deals and I still don’t. Which is indisputable evidence that the Mayan prophecy WAS, in fact, correct, and the world will be ending in December 2012.

Repent now, my friends. The end is near.

But until then, the cabs are here and it’s T-SHIRT TIME!

The Disney-fication of Huck Finn: An American Travesty

When I got home from school yesterday, I was greeted by some disturbing news on Twitter. No, the disturbing news isn’t that the trending topics on Twitter are now my primary source of news (although I DO immediately Google anyone who’s trending to see if they’re trending because they died). It was something far more disturbing to an English teacher and a writer.

New versions of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are going to be printed substituting the word “slave” for the much more controversial “n” word that is used approximately 220 times in the book.

On the surface, this change is long over overdue and a step in the right direction. No student should be subjected to a word that is so unapologetically racist and hurtful in any classroom, and I appreciate the idea triggering people who protest against novels that contain that kind of language.

But as a writer, I’m appalled. And as an English teacher, I think this is a huge mistake and a far more offensive move than anything that Twain wrote.

I know that sounds strange. I’d like to preface what I’m about to say by explaining that I do not tolerate students using that particular racial epithet in my classroom, nor do I tolerate students mocking or belittling others based on race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. Under ANY circumstances. And when I’m teaching a book that has the “n” word in it, I personally am not comfortable saying the word, even in the context of reading aloud from the book.

With that said, however, I do teach Huck Finn. And I think it’s an important part of the curriculum and an even more valuable teaching tool to a generation of students who have largely grown up thinking that the “n” word is appropriate slang amongst friends.

If you haven’t read the novel, or haven’t read it in many years, I’ll outline the issue for you. Huck Finn takes place before the Civil War in Missouri. In other words, the blatant racism in it is absolutely appalling. Huck refers to Jim using the “n” word without even beginning to comprehend that there’s any problem with that. And Huck often, particularly at the beginning of the novel, views Jim as less than a person. And even though I’m a white woman writing this 150 years after the action of the novel takes place, I find a tremendous amount of what’s in the book to be grossly offensive.

Which is exactly the point and why it NEEDS to be taught.

Because a huge amount of what happened in this country WAS grossly offensive.

And I’m not even just talking about before the Civil War. Electing Barack Obama by no means heralded the end of racism in America. But to remove accurate historical elements of the atrocities that occurred is, in my mind at least, far more offensive than teaching about it could ever be.

It’s easy to dismiss Twain as racist if you’re not familiar with a lot of the context of the novel. He was a southerner who grew up before the Civil War in the deep south. It’d be pretty much impossible to come from that environment without being a racist.

Which is why Twain is so celebrated. The most amazing thing about him isn’t the quality of his writing. It’s the fact that he was able to come from the background that he came from and write such a powerful anti-racism novel. Because the use of language in the book isn’t there to belittle or degrade. It’s there to show just how bad things were in the south for a black man.

My students just wrote their research papers on this exact topic. And the point that they made, again and again, was that if Mark Twain wanted Huckleberry Finn to be a racist novel, he failed miserably in that task because Huck goes from being an ignorant child, who sees Jim as nothing more than property, to a young man who is willing to defy society and give up his immortal soul for the “sin” of helping Jim escape from the life of slavery that he was born into. Huck knows that he’s breaking the law by helping Jim, and he has been taught that freeing a slave was equivalent to stealing.  And he has countless opportunities to turn him in and even make money off his capture. But by the end of the novel, he understands that Jim is a person, just like he is, and that his own freedom is worth no more than Jim’s. Which, for the time period that the novel was written and set in, was an absolutely revolutionary concept.

Every year, I get kids who complain that we’re reading “another book about racism.” They feel it’s been done to death, and I can definitely sympathize with that feeling. And so each year, I tell them the following story:

When I was a kid, I remember complaining to my parents about having to learn about the Holocaust every year in Hebrew school. It was depressing, and I felt that the topic had already been covered in such depth that it was overkill to hear over and over again about what happened in Germany. And my parents (whom I respect tremendously for the fact that they never once in my childhood gave me the answer “because I said so”) gave me an answer that really stuck with me. They sat me down to talk to me and explained that it IS, in fact, necessary to learn about the Holocaust because educating people about it is the only way to prevent that kind of horror from happening again.

I feel strongly that this concept applies in the context of Huckleberry Finn.

And honestly, if they do this, where do the revisionists stop in their desire to Disney-fy history? Will The Diary of Anne Frank end with a passage saying that the Germans took all the Jews to a farm upstate somewhere so they could run around and have more space, like the lie that parents tell children when they don’t want to let them know that their dog died?

If we gloss over the horrors and racism of slavery, we’re dishonoring the memory of both the people who suffered through it and the people who fought and died to end it.  And even worse, by ignoring the issue and refusing to teach it because it’s controversial and unpleasant, we’re opening the door to allow that sort of atrocity to happen again.

Things your teacher never told you: I want to grade your paper less than you want to write it!

I spent a large chunk of my Sunday afternoon performing the single worst, most tedious, soul-destroying task on the planet.

No, I wasn’t rooting for the Cowboys or teaching my grandmother to use some new form of technology. It was far, far worse.

I was grading papers.

I know, I know, it doesn’t SEEM like grading papers would be that bad.

Trust me. It is. In fact, it’s worse than that bad. I would rather gouge my own eyes out with a blunt spoon than grade papers.

Which means that I truly picked a terrible profession as my day job until writing starts to pay the bills.

It probably serves me right that I’m stuck grading papers, because I was the obnoxious student who was typically outraged that my teachers didn’t run straight home and spend their entire lives grading my work so that I could get my five page paper (which I had spent no more than an hour writing, because unlike them, I had a life) back the next day. If any of my former teachers are reading this, I’m sorry.

When my students complain about a writing assignment that I’m giving them, I mentally pause and evaluate the arguments that they’re making against having to do the paper. And their arguments usually sound REALLY good. Mostly because I want to grade them FAR less than they want to write them. They don’t know how good they have it. I would trade places with them in a heartbeat, because WRITING a paper is millions of times better than having to grade sixty papers on the EXACT SAME TOPIC.

Literally, I spent hours yesterday grading essays on Twain’s use of satire in Huck Finn. One essay on that? No problem. Sixty? FML.

I’ve discovered that I have two favorite types of students when I’m grading essays: the kids who do a flawless job, requiring me to write nothing more than “Great work!” at the top with a smiley face, and the kids who don’t bother turning their work in at all. The latter group, in fact, tends to REALLY be my favorite, because they make my job that much easier. Just put a zero in the grade book and I’m done.

Unfortunately, in an honors (but not AP) English class, most of my students don’t fall into either of those categories. And if I had to write on one more paper that the writer needed to address the sarcasm that Twain used in answering the librarian who wanted to ban Huck Finn from the children’s shelf at the New York Public Library, I was going to lose it, find a megaphone, and start teaching my lessons with that because apparently when speaking at a normal volume, my explanations of satire are inaudible to teenage ears.

But the fact that I explained in excessive detail exactly what needed to be in their papers (to the point that if they brought a tape recorder and transcribed what I said word-for-word, they’d get an A+, even if they hadn’t read the book), isn’t what annoys me most about grading. Nor is it the sheer tedium of reading the same paper sixty times. It’s not even the amount of time that grading takes—time that I would far rather be spending in ANY other way.

No, the worst part of grading is that I actually take the time to do it (granted, because I have to. If I could get away without grading at all and not get fired, I would never grade another paper again), and then the kids look at the grade and promptly drop their papers in the trashcan. Not even the recycling bin. The trash. And then proceed to make the EXACT SAME MISTAKES on every other paper that they turn in for the rest of the year.

I mean, okay, I get it, you don’t care what I have to say about your writing (even though I’m a freaking published author. That’s cool. Ignore my advice), but can you AT LEAST show some environmental awareness in your choice of disposal method, just so I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time AND contributing to the ruination of the planet?

And I thought the guy standing on Rockville Pike in the tuxedo-wearing chicken suit in the rain had a thankless job.

In college, I was the queen of testing professors when I didn’t think they were reading my work. I would screw with the page numbers, leaving out a couple of numbers when my work wasn’t long enough, or using multiples with the same page number when it was too long and I didn’t feel like cutting anything out. I would mess with the margins, font size, and line spacing (for example, most people won’t spot the difference between a paper written in 12.3 point font and 12 point font—12.4 is where it starts to look obvious). And in one case, when I was positive that my professor wasn’t REALLY reading my work, I inserted a page long explanation of how I didn’t actually read the book into a ten page paper on a Willa Cather novel.

Not a single professor ever caught on.

Now, I’m tempted to use some of the same tricks with my grading, just to see if the kids are paying attention.

For example, if they got an A on the paper, would they really notice that the comments said that it was unreadable drivel, on par with the ramblings that a psychotic third grader would write entirely in goat’s blood? Or a B that said I think the author will have a fulfilling career in miniature golf ahead of him, based on his ability to fabricate information with a tiny pencil?

I haven’t done anything like that yet, but I’m pretty sure that I could get away with it.

Although, to be honest, if a kid DID put anything super creative in a paper to see if I was reading it, I’d probably give him or her an A, just for breaking up the tedium of grading.

No, not really.   I’m going to keep grading for real in the vain hope that SOME student will someday actually learn from my comments on his or her paper.

But it would still make grading a lot less mind-numbingly awful.