This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Big Books Home
2006 Fifth Web Report
On Serendip

The Adventure of Childhood: Reexamining Huckleberry Finn

Margaret Miller

I have chosen to write a course description for The Adventure of Childhood: Reexamining Huckleberry Finn!, a college or continuing education course for students who want to reexamine the familiar novel through the lens of family and childhood. It is conceptualized as a cross listed course in Psychology, English, and Education; Psychology because it deals with the concepts of disorders and attachment theory, English because it reexamines the text of Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Education because it helps students understand how the same text can be read and taught in different ways.

Welcome to The Adventure of Childhood: Reexamining Huckleberry Finn!

"I've been there before." An Introduction to the Course.

Many of you may have read the novel in previous classes in which the focus was on the issues of freedom, slavery, and race. In this course we will be examining Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn through the lens of family and childhood. We will be using psychological theory and history to examine the novel. Three units will cover the topics of the history of childhood, psychological disorders, and attachment theory. The course work consists of two papers and a group project. In addition, students will be required to find at least one outside resource and present it to the class. Students will be assigned days to present during the first week of class. The course work was created to help students explore and examine Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It will require students to leave their comfort zones and reexamine the familiar text. Students who show they are willing to try and remain open minded will do better in this class.

Before we begin to discuss the novel, we will have a discussion about the issue of race. The novel contains a word that some students may feel uncomfortable using. On the second day of class we will be taking an anonymous vote regarding the class use of the word. If one person votes "no" we will not be saying the word out loud. We will then discuss as a class how we would like to deal with the word when we come across it in our discussions. Over the course of several years, classes have chosen to say the word, replace the word with another word, or take a pause. This is not a course regarding the issue of race, but we will be spending the second day of class talking about the issue of race in the novel. We are doing this because it is an important issue in the novel and so that people who feel the need to voice their opinion about the use of race in the novel have an opportunity to do so. After this second day, class time will be devoted to examining the novel through the lens of childhood and family.

Unit One: Childhood: Now and Then

The first unit will enable the students to understand the historical context of the novel and will encourage students to begin to think about the similarities and differences between childhood then and today. The unit is titled "Childhood: Now and Then." At the beginning of the unit, students will be given time in class to write about and share one of their favorite childhood moments. During this unit students will be required to bring in outside resources they find interesting concerning the historical context of the novel. This unit is flexible due to the fact that different students have different interests. Some years, the class has chosen to focus on the different roles of women in childrearing, while others have focused on the role of religion in raising a child. There are many interesting topics to discuss in this unit and our discussion will be as good as the articles that students bring in. For those of you who are unsure in what you may be interested, we will be brainstorming a list during the first day of this unit and you can always come and talk to me if you are completely stumped. The goal of this unit is to learn about the ways in which childhood has changed over time.

At the end of this unit, students will write a paper relating childhood then and now. The paper consists of two parts. For the first part, students have two options. They may rewrite one of the scenes from the novel as though it was occurring today or they may rewrite their favorite childhood memory as though it were occurring in the era of Huck Finn. These scenes should not exceed 5 pages in length and you must attach a copy of what you are rewriting (the original scene in the book or a copy of your favorite childhood memory exercise from the beginning of the unit). For the second part of the paper, students will compare their rewrite to the original scene. They should focus on the differences and similarities between the two time periods in which the same event is taking place. Good papers will explain what the students chose to change/keep the same specific aspect of the event. Great papers will take this a step further and explain why they made these decisions in regards to historical context. The goal of this paper is to encourage students to more fully understand the differences between childhood today and childhood in the era of Huck Finn.

Unit Two: ADHD and CD

The second unit will focus on the concepts of disorders. We will be specifically looking at ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) and CD (conduct disorder). Many people believe that the character of Huck Finn has ADHD and/or CD. In this unit students will learn about these disorders and the concept of disorders in general. To begin this unit, students will be reading Richters and Cicchetti's article "Mark Twain meets DSM-III-R: Conduct disorder, development, and the concept of harmful dysfunction." This article will be the basis of this unit. We will be discussing and brainstorming about what we think a disorder is. Students will be encouraged to come up with examples of behavior that could be interpreted as a disorder in one society, but not in another. The article also deals with the issue of context. It proposes that we should look at the context of not only society, but of the person. We will discuss Huck's personal as well as social context and examine whether he has a disorder. During this unit, a clinical psychologist will be coming to talk to the class. He or she will be explaining how they make diagnoses, (what a person with ADHD and CD looks like) and will be discussing the issue of disorder with the class. Over the years, students have said this was perhaps the most interesting day of class, so please try not to miss it!

At the end of this unit, students will write a 5-page paper. For this paper, students will argue whether they believe Huck Finn has a disorder. They will need to explain which disorder(s) he has/doesn't have and prove their diagnoses using the text. Please note that there is no right or wrong answer. The goal of this paper is for students to examine the issue of disorders, contexts, and apply what they have learned to the novel.

Unit Three: Attachment Theory

The third and final unit deals with attachment theory. Attachment theory is a theory about the different ways that children form attachments with their parents. We will be discussing four different styles of attachment. The first is secure attachment. This is the ideal attachment style. A child who has a secure attachment to their mother will happily explore when the mother is present, be upset when the mother leaves, and happy when she returns. The second style we will cover is anxious-ambivalent insecure attachment. A child with this style of attachment is anxious when exploring when the mother is present, be extremely upset when the mother returns, and resistant and resentful when the mother returns. We will also be talking about the anxious-avoidant insecure attachment style. A child with anxious-avoidant insecure attachment style will not explore much and will show little emotion when the mother leaves or returns. The last attachment style we will be covering is the disorganized attachment style. This is not so much a style as it is a lack of a cohesive style.

At the end of this unit, students will be using the attachment styles to reexamine the novel in a group project. Students will be divided into four groups. Each group will be assigned to present on a different attachment style. The project consists of a paper and a brief presentation. The paper has three parts. For the first part they must write a brief 1-2 page introduction about their assigned attachment style. These should include background information about Attachment Theory, information about their specific attachment style, and what a child who has that attachment style looks like. For this part, students must cite two outside resources and one of them must be a research article (We will be going over how to find research articles in class). For the second part of the paper, students will chose a scene between Jim and Huck from the novel and reexamine it with regards to their specific assigned attachment style. In other words, they will interpret the scene as though Huck and Jim had their specific attachment style. This part of the paper should be between 4-6 pages long. For the last part of the paper, the students will examine the novel as a whole through the lens of their assigned attachment style. They will need to reflect on how the meaning of the novel changes when they examine it through their attachment style. This should be between 5-7 pages long. The students will also make a 15 minute presentation on the last day of class in which students will teach the class to look at the novel as though Jim and Huck shared their specific attachment style. The goal of the group project is to gain a greater understanding of attachment theory, a specific attachment style, and how the same novel can be interpreted differently through different lenses.

At the end of the group project, students will be asked to write an informal reflection 1-2 page paper about how their experience working in a group relates to the concepts of groups presented in the novel. These reflections should not refer to group members by name and are not a place to voice opinions about specific members of your group. The reflection is meant to help the students recognize how groups behave and how they themselves behave in a group. Good reflections will be ones that examine both the positives and negatives to group and personal behavior.

"The End, Yours Truly Huck Finn."

I hope that at the end of the course we can all, me included, say that we have learned something from each other. I also hope that you will have all gained a new perspective of Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and of family and childhood.

| Course Home | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:36 CDT