The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most important pieces of American literature from the eighteen hundreds. An amazing satire revolving around a poor white boy and runaway slave that challenged all ideas about racism from the time. Although racism was the central focus of the novel, I believe that Twain was also critiquing how education was perceived at the time, and probably how it is still perceived today. Throughout the novel it is expressed how educated people use their knowledge to impose power over others, and how school education is given much more value than experience even though it has been proved over and over that being smart in school is not as important for life when compared to other types of intelligence and forms of learning.
Based on this, why do educated people use their knowledge to put themselves above others instead of educating them? And why is it that experience is not considered a more effective form of learning instead of school? I argue that people use their knowledge to control those who they think to not be fit to be an equal, and because of this learning through experience has been discredited. Since the beginning of the novel Twain shows how the characters use their education to show superiority over others. This is especially present in the begging of the novel when Tom Sawyer decides to form a gang by the name of "Tom Sawyer's Gang". Right since the begging he's showing the members of the gang by putting himself above them, he makes a set of rules and creates scenarios that he backs up with books he has read. When the other Huck question his rules and lies he puts him back in their place by imposing his education. Tom says "if I warn't so ignorant, but had read a book called ‘Don Quixote', I would know". He uses this to shame Huck for his lack of knowledge in books. The reasoning behind Tom's actions are still present in society today, Twain was critiquing how society uses knowledge to show superiority over those who don't have access to it for only purpose of controlling them. No human would follow another in such a blind way if they didn't believe they were below them.
Tom Sawyer needed the kids to believe he was above them so that they would follow his gang scam so that he could have an adventure. The same scenario shows up again by the end of the novel when Tom and Huck want to free Jim from the Phelps' plantation. Huck has a logical plan; steal the key, open the door, remove the chains and free Jim. But Tom has a more complicated plan based on the books he has read, the plan that takes months to be completed and everyone ends up getting hurt by Tom's selfish idea. Even though Huck knew Tom's ideas were foolish and proposes his own more logical ideas Tom always finds a way to convince Huck by telling him it's in the books and when he's tired of Huck questioning him he says "well if that ain't like you Huck Finn. You can get up the infant-schooliest ways of going at a thing. Why, hain't you ever read any books at all?" . Tom once again has humiliated Huck and shown his superiority by showing off the many books he has read, and Huck believes him because it's what society has taught him. However, society's opinion about books and education affects mostly the lower classes and especially slaves. Jim, the runaway slave, is put through many tortures during Tom's plan to free him from the Phelps. Tom puts snakes, spiders and rats into Jim's shed; when the rats bite him he has to use the blood to write on an old shirt. Even though Jim knew this intricate plan was ridiculous he still followed Tom Sawyer. Twain writes, "Jim couldn't see no sense in the most of [the plan], but he allowed we was white folks and knowed better than him; so he was satisfied and said he would do it all as Tom said".
Twain shows how Jim and Huck had common sense and were actually really smart, but they had been put down so many times by what they thought to be educated people that they had started to believe that they knew nothing at all, and educated people know better. Again, Tom only uses his knowledge to be superior to others, not because he actually wants to be educated. Tom needs something to make people follow him and he needs people who actually believe him, it is easier for him to use people that have been told their whole lives that they don't know anything and that they can't be taught for his personal amusement. Due to society's opinion surrounding books and education, people have come to believe that school is the only way one can get an education. Society praises those who go to school to get educated, because it is the only right way . Furthermore, they never question what is learned form school and books. Twain critiques in the scene where Huck states that Tom's plans to free Jim are foolish, to which Tom replies, "[i]t don't make no difference how foolish it is, it's the right way . . . there ain't no other way, that ever I heard of, and I've read all the books that give any information about this things". What the author is trying to teach us about school is that it is never questioned. The results are shown clearly in Huck and Tom's relationship, Huck has put himself below Tom for the only reason that he is educated even if he proves to himself many times that he is just as smart, if not smarter, than Tom Sawyer.
However, we quickly learn how Huck is different from society. He questions everything that society and books have taught him, he follows what he believes in instead of what people have told him; this is why Huck is the only one getting truly educated. In my opinion, Huck has received the best education one can have; experience. In the book it is shown countless times how Huck's experiences have taught him more about life and how to solve problems than any book Tom Sawyer or any educated individual has read. We are first exposed to this idea when Huck meets the king and duke, he says "[i]f I never learnt nothing else out of pap, I learnt that the best way to get along with his kind of people is to let them have their own way". What Twain is showing us is how smart Huck really is. Huck was able to learn from a past experience with his dad apply it to a current situation in order to deal with it in the best way possible. Later on in the novel a group of educated individuals meet the king and duke, who use their emotions against these people to gain wealth from their problems. And yet only one from the group noticed that they were frauds, so why is it that a group of educated people couldn't notice what Huck did in a matter of seconds? The truth is that books don't really prepare you for life, and it is our experiences and observations of the world that really prepare us for the life in front of us. By the end of the novel Tom Sawyer expresses that the only right way to do something is the one that is expressed in books. For this reason, when he plans to free Jim he decides to excavate a whole with knifes as it was told in the many books he had read. Upon a few hours he realizes that Huck's opinion about his plans were right and they should have used the shovel and pickaxes. When Tom's hands have blisters from trying to use the knifes for hours he finally says "well there's excuse for picks and letting-on in a case like this; if it warn't so I wouldn't approve of it, nor I wouldn't stand by and see the rules broke".
Twain shows how Tom has learned from his experience after trying to excavate a whole with just knives and understands that what is in the books will most probably not apply for real life situations like this one. He should have learned to trust his experiences instead of the books alone. The problem with experiences is that you have to go through them in order to learn, therefore, it was necessary that his hands blistered from the knives before he learned from his mistake. We learn from our mistakes, and this type of learning is probably the most durable there is. Usually what is taught in school people forget not long after it has been taught. The school system also teaches us to know our place in society and to follow authority figures above anything else. In school we learn to not question the teachers and elderly, to accept what they tell us for the truth above everything else. But the truth is that school doesn't really prepare us for life, the only thing that does is experience. "You lie and you learn" is a phrase that is constantly coming back in our life, because we learn from our experiences and mistakes. However, only who is truly educated and smart can learn from the past and use this to apply it to future situations. I personally believe Huck ends up being the smartest and most educated character in the novel. He is the only one that is able to break down traditional thoughts and is willing to follow his thoughts wherever they lead. He learns from tragic experiences in order to figure out how society works. I believe this is true education, one that makes you a better person, a critical thinker and someone who is not using their knowledge to put themselves above others.