So, there’s this hubbub about Pulitzer-prize-winning author Toni Morrison and some smut she wrote back in the godless seventies called The Bluest Eye. Apparently, Ohio’s School Board President, Debe Terhar, made some innocuous remarks about not wanting her grandchildren or “anybody else’s grandchildren reading” The Bluest Eye—a book which she’s “very passionate about” removing from the recommended reading list for 11th grade, a list put together for the Common Core Reading Standards (that piece of Federal whimsy!). For some reason, this has Toni Morrison a little chagrined. But, I say shame on Toni Morrison.
I admit, back before there was such a thing as Common Core, I used The Bluest Eye in my classroom for literature circles. Kids loved that book the way you love a grandmother who curses like a sailor and doesn’t go to church; she scares you a little but you adore her. The Bluest Eye wasn’t a book that coddled students—as a matter of fact, it gave them the creeps—it was a book that shook them. Every batch of students who read it recognized Pecola, the very poor, very ugly, very black protagonist who is raped and impregnated by her father. They knew her. They saw her in their poor, marginalized classmates. In rural Kentucky, black or white, they didn’t have to look very far. As much success as my students had with that book, the censors who banned it from me were more successful. (Well, they actually meant no harm to that book in particular; it was banned en masse ). It was just as well though; it was one of those books students always “forgot to turn in.” By the time the heavy-handed ruling came down, there weren’t many Morrison books left on my shelves anyway (The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Beloved, or Paradise ). The students kept that amoral filth. And they’ve probably kept reading it, too. Bless their hearts.
As a wiser, now National Board certified, now five years more experienced, now 50+ times censored, now three times a mother, I wish I had listened to the voices like Debe Terhar’s who said that books like The Bluest Eye were inappropriate not only for their children but for anyone’s children. Because now I’ve realized that these grotesque depictions—cruel poverty, incest, indifference, self-loathing—are not present in the lives of the kids we service as educators.
And Toni Morrison should be ashamed of herself for representing a group of people whose obscure voices still shake polite society so harshly that folks like Debe Terhar, et al, know no other course of action than to ban ban ban. How dare authors write—and then defend!—books so alien to the gentler side of the human experience that it shocks folks who just want to parent everyone’s kids–oops, I mean, who just want to provide a challenging, complex, diverse, quality, and rigorous education for all kids.
What a shame.