Bluest Eye

Controversy

The Bluest Eye landed the fifth spot on the American Library Association's list of most challenged books in 2006. It was the second most challenged book of 2013 and the fourth most challenged book of 2014. According to the ALA, the reasons reported for challenges are "offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence".[10]

Montgomery County, Maryland

The Bluest Eye was legally challenged on February 10, 1998 by a mother from Montgomery County, Maryland named Christine Schwalm. She brought The Bluest Eye and four other books to the attention of the Montgomery County school board, describing The Bluest Eye and others as "lewd, adult books."[11] Ms. Schwalm argued for the removal of the book from the syllabus due to the fact that she deemed them to be "at odds with the character education programme" promoted within the schools.[12] In court, Ms Schwalm read a passage specifically from The Bluest Eye in order to demonstrate the inappropriate nature of the content within the novel. The passage in question featured Soaphead Church and presented pedophelia and child molesting, leading to Schwalm's objections to its presence in schools. The book, however, was not removed from the curriculum as Schwalm's objections were not upheld in court.[12]

Baker City, Oregon

In March 1999, The Bluest Eye was successfully banned from Baker High School language arts program in Baker City, Oregon after multiple complaints from parents about the content of the book.[13] The original source of contention for this novel was the rape scene between Cholly and Pecola. Later, the book was banned for being "sexually explicit," "unsuited for age group," and containing "controversial issues."[14] The decision was made by Baker City schools superintendent Arnold Coe, and was supported by the school board.[11]

Claremont, New Hampshire

In 1999, parents of students at Stevens High School in Claremont, New Hampshire, objected to the book being assigned to lower grade levels.[15] The case started when parents complained to the school that they thought the book contained inappropriate sexual content. As a result, the school decided to remove the book from freshmen and sophomore reading lists, and deemed that it was only "suitable" for juniors and seniors to read the book.[16] In addition, the school also ruled that teachers must send reading lists to parents early on in the year to get their approval as to which books their children could read and discuss in class.[16] While some parents would have preferred heavier restrictions against the book at Stevens High School, they were glad that action was taken, as they viewed The Bluest Eye to be an "adult book."[17]

Littleton, Colorado

In August 2005 in Littleton, Colorado, the Littleton school board voted to ban The Bluest Eye from reading lists, where it was listed as optional, and remove it from the libraries of the Heritage and Arapahoe high schools, despite the recommendation of a committee that the book be restricted to juniors and seniors. The ban was enacted in response to a complaint received by a parent of a ninth-grader student who was on the board and who took issue with the novel's sexual content, specifically the scene of Pecola's rape. During a meeting to discuss the decision, some parents agreed that the book was not age-appropriate and would be better suited for college students.[18] However, other parents, teachers, and students expressed their opposition to the ban, including English teacher Amanda Hurley who stated that the novel is "painful, difficult to read", but "We have to discuss it, we have to learn from it."[19] Students also protested the ban by reading passages from the book in their school libraries. In response to the ban, Camille Okoren, a student attending the sit-in acknowledged that "students hear about rape and incest in the news media. It's better to learn about those subjects from a Nobel Prize winner...and to discuss it with a teacher in class."[18] Ultimately, the book was reinstated after English teacher Judy Vlasin filed an application to the board explaining why it should not be banned from the reading lists and libraries.[20]

Howell, Michigan

In February 2007, a group called LOVE (the Livingston Organization for Values in Education) challenged four books in the Howell High School curriculum, including The Bluest Eye, Black Boy by Richard Wright, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and The Freedom Writers Diary. Vicki Fyke, the founder of LOVE, challenged the books due to their images of sex, rape, and incest, claiming that inclusion of these books in a high school curriculum did not comply with federal child pornography and obscenity laws, and was against Michigan's sexual education laws.[21][22] In addition to Fyke, a majority of the members of the school board and parents were against the curriculum, one arguing, "At the end of the day, they're my kids. I don't want my kids to read [these books]. I don't let them eat just anything...I want you to respect that."[21] The Vice President of the school board further argued that parents should receive warnings of the different types of material that is discussed in their children's curricula, and that students should be allowed to have the option to avoid a particular book based on content.[21] The National Coalition Against Censorship published a letter in response to the criticism, claiming that the scenes which involve sex "represent small but essential parts of the novels, consistent with the kind of material that high school students frequently read."[23] Their letter also argued that the books in question "are widely recognized as works of significant literary and artistic merit," and "are widely taught in high schools and colleges around the country".[23]

Despite controversy, the curriculum was in fact approved in a 5 to 2 decision by the Howell school board.[21] In response to the legal concerns raised by LOVE, Livingston Prosecutor David Morse, the Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, and the U.S. Attorney confirmed that no laws, state or federal, had been broken by including the selected books in the curriculum. In a statement, Cox addressed LOVE to say that, in order for the curriculum to change, LOVE "must either take appropriate civil legal action or use the electoral process to change the members of the board."[22] Since the case, the books have been included in 11th grade advanced English curriculum.[22]

Adams County, Colorado

In 2013, a group of parents challenged The Bluest Eye's inclusion in Legacy High School's AP English curriculum due to the book's sexual content and "subject matter" of a girl getting raped by her father.[24] In their petition launched through Change.org, the parents argued that they "did not want developmentally inappropriate and graphic books used for classroom instruction."[24] In a formal petition submitted to the superintendent, parent Janela Karlson claimed that scientific research supported this notion that the introduction of sexually graphic material including rape, incest, and pedophilia could be developmentally harmful to minors. Expanding on this point, she argued that high school English teachers are not professional mental health counselors and would not be able to adequately "...help students psychologically process and debrief sexually explicit content of an abusive and degrading nature."[25] Other reasons cited for the ban included the book's "pornographic content," which could promote sexually explicit behavior, and its lack of "educational value."[26]

In response to the challenge, Legacy High School student Bailey Cross created a petition to maintain the book in the curriculum, which amassed over 1,200 signatures. She expressed the importance of retaining the book, stating, "Banning and censoring this tells students that ... racism, incest, rape, abuse, are taboo subjects that should not be mentioned."[24] Numerous teachers also spoke out against the ban, stating that the book was used to analyze Morrison's writing style and that banning this book could set a precedent for censorship in the district.[27] Ultimately, the Adams County School Board voted to retain the Superintendent's original ruling of the 2010 challenge, which not only restricted the book to AP curriculum but also required teachers to notify parents before their child read the book, explaining that an option for an alternative book would be available.[27] In addition, only one of the three sections of the AP class would teach the novel moving forward.[28]

Ohio

In September, 2013, The Bluest Eye was challenged by the Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar. The book was challenged due to it being seen as "pornographic"[29] and thus unsuited for 11th graders to read. This book was listed as recommended reading in the state's Common Core standards, but was challenged at the state's Board of Education, with teachers pushing to ban it from the classroom due to its explicit content. Terhar took particular issue when it came to the scene regarding Pecola being raped by her father. Although not seen commenting on previous challenges to her books, Morrison specifically commented on this particular incident: "I mean if it's Texas or North Carolina as it has been in all sorts of states. But to be a girl from Ohio, writing about Ohio having been born in Lorain, Ohio. And actually relating as an Ohio person, to have the Ohio, what—Board of Education?—is ironic at the least."[29]

The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Debe Terhar, explaining that it was her personal opinion that novel was "pornographic." In the letter it was suggested that Ohio schools "use controversial literature as an opportunity to improve students' critical thinking skills and to create open dialogue between students and the community."[29] This received major push-back, with Mark Smith, Ohio Christian University president, saying, "I see an underlying socialist-communist agenda ... that is anti what this nation is about."[30] Despite the publicity, The Bluest Eye remained on the recommended reading list, with the Board of Education stating that local school districts can in fact make changes if they desire.[29]

North Carolina

In July, 2014, East Wake High School in North Carolina removed The Bluest Eye from their reading lists due its inappropriate content. In particular, the school highlighted the fact that the book contains "a description of a father raping his daughter."[31] Furthermore, East Wake High assigned an alternative book to their reading list, The Color Purple. The Bluest Eye, however, was still left available within their libraries for students to read if they wish at their own discretion as the school wished to make clear that they were not "denying students access to that level of literature."[31]

Northville, Michigan

In 2016, The Bluest Eye was challenged in the Northville, Michigan school district after a parent filed a complaint petitioning for the removal of the book from the AP Literature and Composition curriculum, stating the book's portrayal of sexual assault was not age-appropriate.[32] A committee, consisting of a school administrator and other educators, evaluated the book and recommended that the board vote to maintain the book in the AP curriculum and allow students the option to choose an alternative book.[33] The committee announced their decision explaining that removing the book "would eliminate the opportunity for deep study by our student[s] on critical themes in our society."[32] At a Northville Board of Education meeting, some parents in favor of the ban argued that the book was "pornographic".[34] Others cited the potential for "deviant behavior" after reading the novel and the "negative references within the text against the Christian faith" as reasons for the ban.[33] Despite some support for the ban, many parents and students objected to it, with one student stating, "The purpose of AP literature as a class is to expand our understanding and enlarge our world, not make us more comfortable inside boxes of ignorance."[35] Parents and students opposed to the ban were also supported by national organizations including the National Council of Teachers of English, NCAC, and ALA.[34] After voting, the board ultimately sided with the evaluation of the committee and retained the book in the AP curriculum.[35]

Buncombe County, North Carolina

In September 2017, The Bluest Eye was challenged at North Buncombe High School in Buncombe County, North Carolina, by a parent, Tim Coley.[36] Tim Coley, a self-described "Christian single dad", took notice of the book for its sexual content and formed a committee concerning the removal of the book in the English honors academics.[37] Coley told WLOS-13 that "It's astounding really that somebody thinks it's OK for kids to be reading this in school."[36] Eric Grant, the English coordinator, defended the book by making the committee aware that the school offered an alternative assignment for those who were not comfortable with the book. He also mentioned that the book was in the syllabus that was handed out at the beginning of the year.[37] The committee was given time to read the book and determine if there was academic value offered from the book.[37]


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