Is today’s youth capable of recognizing irony in literature? Monday’s discussion of Huck Finn has prompted me to move on to another little soapbox subject of mine: underestimating young readers.

Some people find the language and characters in Huck Finn offensive. (Monday, I pointed out that we’re supposed to be offended: it’s about racism.) Others are afraid that students who read this kind of literature will believe that it portrays truth – that they will consider the language acceptable and the characters realistic. In other words, some people think children are not smart enough to understand irony.

I beg to differ. Like many things, it simply needs to be taught. Students can understand irony, and in fact my daughters picked it up on their own watching an episode of Fox’s animated science fiction satirical show, Futurama. Gina’s teacher was a little startled when she spouted off Bender’s definition of irony in class:

The use of words expressing other than their literal intention.

(She tells me she didn’t sing it to her teacher, but both Dread Daughters sing it in the video below.)

The daughters are also fond of citing this example of ironic language from the same episode:

The Robot Devil critiques Fry’s opera: “Your lyrics lack subtlety! You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!”

If my girls can discover (and giggle maniacally over) irony and satire they discover on their own, while watching popular television, then children can be taught to recognize it in literature. If Huck Finn offends, then discuss with the class why it does. If, as some people say, Mark Twain was not able to rise above racial stereotypes even when writing an anti-slavery novel, then that should be discussed too. Was it ingrained prejudice on the part of the author, or was it, too, intentional?

I hate to see today’s youth underestimated. They are smarter than we think and sometimes starved for stimulus.