Novelist Toni Morrison is a Pulitzer Prize winner for Beloved and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom just last year. But that doesn't mean a group of concerned Adams County parents want high school age students to read her work.
The parents in question have launched a petition calling for "inappropriate" books to be yanked from approved reading lists, and they're using Morrison's The Bluest Eye as exhibit A. But a student is fighting back with a petition of her own.
According to 7News, Erin Gee is among the parents behind Concerned Citizens of Adams 12 Five Star School District, the entity named on the Change.org petition. She tells the station that The Bluest Eye is "kind of in a league of its own," and there's no question the book deals with tough themes. Here's an excerpt from the SparkNotes summary:
Cholly returns home one day and finds Pecola washing dishes. With mixed motives of tenderness and hatred that are fueled by guilt, he rapes her. When Pecola's mother finds her unconscious on the floor, she disbelieves Pecola's story and beats her. Pecola goes to Soaphead Church, a sham mystic, and asks him for blue eyes. Instead of helping her, he uses her to kill a dog he dislikes. Claudia and Frieda find out that Pecola has been impregnated by her father, and unlike the rest of the neighborhood, they want the baby to live. They sacrifice the money they have been saving for a bicycle and plant marigold seeds. They believe that if the flowers live, so will Pecola's baby. The flowers refuse to bloom, and Pecola's baby dies when it is born prematurely. Cholly, who rapes Pecola a second time and then runs away, dies in a workhouse. Pecola goes mad, believing that her cherished wish has been fulfilled and that she has the bluest eyes.
Yet while The Bluest Eye is the only book mentioned by name in a suggested letter to the Adams 12 school board featured in the petition, it appears to be emblematic of what the parents see as a broader problem. The intro to the petition reads in part:
We are not seeking to censor or ban any book from school library collections or to hinder student access to reading material. We simply do not want developmentally inappropriate and graphic books used for classroom instruction. Ultimately, we desire a safe, supportive, respectful and productive learning environment for all students, as stated in the Adams 12 mission statement.
The censorship reference doesn't convince Legacy High School student Bailey Cross, who launched a petition of her own at Change.org. Her introduction points out that no one is forced to read The Bluest Eye. She writes:
We are asking that teachers be allowed to retain the freedom to choose what reading materials they would like, or not like, to teach in their classrooms. No student is forced to read this material, as parents and students who object to these choices have always been, and will continue to be provided with an alternative reading assignment. The freedom to teach what some might call controversial material (such as The Bluest Eye that has previously been reviewed by the district and received district approval to be taught in classrooms) in a safe, supportive environment where students are allowed to ask questions and understand the material through careful instruction should not be taken away from any teacher or class simply because a minority of parents disagree with its content. If one book is banned from being taught in a classroom setting, then it opens the door for all books -- and ideas -- to be banned as well.
Both petitions have reached their goals, with the parents exceeding 400 online or in-print signatures and Bailey clearing 500. Now it's up to the school board, which may make a decision about The Bluest Eye and other books concerning to parents at its upcoming August meeting.
In the meantime, comments on the parents' petition suggest that some people see a crisis scenario. One person notes that the issue "makes me question our educators if they feel this is their best choice for a school curriculum. What's next, Fifty Shades of Grey?"
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Here's the 7News report.
More from our Sports archive circa 2009: "Adventures in Censorship: How to call Jay Cutler a 'pussy' without pissing off your readers."