Discussing Tough Stuff in American Literature: Slavery and Racism

Homeschool high schoolers must learn skills for discussing tough stuff in American Literature: slavery and racism. Here are 2 books that give a good place to get the conversation going.

Discussing Tough Stuff in American Literature: Slavery and Racism

Discussing Tough Stuff in American Literature: Slavery and Racism

One of the unexpected gift of required Language Arts credits in high school is that teens can read literature that challenges them and brings good discussion points. As a homeschool mom and/or co-op teacher, when reading American Literature you’re going to run into some uncomfortable topics. This is good! Here are a couple of tips for handling them.

  • Bring the uncomfortable topics up, allow teens to express their thoughts
  • Ask teens to perspective-take, what did each of the various characters think and feel (perspective-taking is an important life skill)
  • Without being preachy, ask what they think Jesus would have thought about the situation
  • Ask if the book is changing or challenging any of their previous thoughts or if it helped them understand others’ experiences

Most homeschoolers would expect to include Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a title on their American Lit. book list. Taking place in the mid-1800s, this classic story provides a thought-provoking look at slavery in the U.S. and the crisis of conscience that teenage Huck Finn experiences as he travels with runaway slave Jim down the Mississippi River. There is also some language in the book that is racist in current American culture but was not considered inappropriate in Twain’s day.

A less often included title, Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, provides an excellent look at race relations in the U.S. a hundred years later. It is a powerful story that introduces us to the Younger family, African Americans facing prejudice and injustice in 1950s Chicago. The crisis of conscience they experience as they look for a wise way to move out of the ghetto is beautifully written and gives the reader a lot to think about.

Adventures of Huckleberry

I wrote literature study guides to accompany both of these books, and you can download them from the ebookstore for $4.99 each.

The Huck Finn study guide focuses on:

  • understanding satire and irony,
  • recognizing the qualities of an anti-hero,
  • evaluating internal and external conflict,
  • appreciating dialect,
  • relating to a coming of age story, and
  • introducing the concept of unreliable narration.

The Raisin study guide focuses on:

  • understanding didactic literature,
  • recognizing symbols and related symbols,
  • appreciating dialect, and
  • introducing the idea of peripety in a story.A Raisin in the Sun

Several productions of A Raisin in the Sun can be viewed on YouTube. Watching the play performed really adds to the appreciation of the various dialects used by different characters. The title of the play comes from a poem by Langston Hughes, and I used that as a connection to reading other work by this American poet when my son and I read Raisin last fall.

Sometimes it helps teens to see how adults handle tough topics. One tough topic for homeschooling parents is dealing with “homeschool haters”! With that in mind, it might help to share our 7Sisters response to a Harvard professor’s attack on homeschooling. 

You can do this! You can equip your teens to wisely think about tough topics and graciously discuss them.

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Discussing Tough Stuff in American Literature: Slavery and Racism


Sabrina Justison

20+ year homeschool mom and curriculum developer for 7SistersHomeschool.com. Fred's wife. Writing, drama, music, blogs, kids, shoes, coffee, & books in varying orders on various days. He is God, He is good & He loves me.

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