For Alabama state Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), Nobel Prize in Literature winner Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” is inappropriate for the public school setting, as the 1970 novel, which illustrates the life of a young Black girl who grows up longing to be White, has a storyline that exposes the reality of incest, rape and molestation.
Referring to the book as a piece of child pornography, Holtzclaw has called for its banishment from the public school system and its removal from the national Common Core suggested reading list.
“The book is just completely objectionable, from language to the content,” Holtzclaw told the Alabama Media Group.
The book is being criticized among conservative commentators and politicians for its perceived graphic content, including scenes of rape, pedophilia and incest.
Holtzclaw defends his decision regarding Morrison’s book as one rooted in the belief that Alabama School Districts should have local control — and if those in that area don’t feel comfortable with a certain piece of literature, they should have the authority to ban it.
“The Bluest Eye” is in the Core’s reading curriculum for eleventh-graders.
Holtzclaw’s statements came after he was attacked by fellow GOP members for failing to align with them on a repeal of Common Core standards, which were adopted in Alabama in November 2010. More than 40 states throughout the U.S. are a part of the Core system, criticized by conservatives for suggesting literature that doesn’t hold up to their moral code — which excludes discussion of rape.
The Common Core ‘Bogeyman’
“I don’t want the federal government telling us when and what to teach our children, and I don’t want the Alabama legislature doing it either,” Holtzclaw wrote in a recent blog post.
Common Core isn’t wildly popular among Holtzclaw’s constituents, who have warned that it will take local control away and leave Alabama school districts to fall victim to a perceived liberalization of America’s education system. Holtzclaw has elsewhere defended Common Core, although his recent call to ban “The Bluest Eye” is inching him closer to those who are painting the system as the “Bogeyman” of the national education program.
“The day may come when the Common Core Standards become the Bogeyman some fear. If so, we will raise the blinds and allow the light of day — through Alabama maintaining control over our education standards — to cast the shadows of mystery that is the Common Core Bogeyman,” Holtzclaw wrote. “State and local control will ensure Alabama’s children are taught high standards for a globally competitive, college and career ready workforce encompassing the conservative values we demand.”
It’s not clear whether Holtzclaw has read the book, but it is clear that his objections stem from scenes in which Morrison describes the agonies of a Black child growing up in Ohio.
While not an autobiographical account, Morrison, who grew up in Ohio, wrote the 1970 novel as a reflection of the times, highlighting the feelings of young girls and the unfortunate life struggles so many faced.
Though the novel is seen by many educators as a valuable piece of literature for students seeking to understand the racial climate 1970s America, Holtzclaw claims it perpetuates an emphasis on sexuality in the public school setting.
Conservative mothers rallying against literature option
Holtzclaw isn’t alone.
“This newest controversy is only the latest example of how Common Core takes decisions from Alabama and puts it in the hands of entities outside of Alabama,” Alabama Federation of Republican Women President Elois Zeanah said in a press release. “Books on the approved Common Core list end-run the public process. Parents, school officials and legislators have no say in what goes on that list, which becomes part of the Alabama curriculum.”
While no one is forcing Alabama eleventh graders to read “The Bluest Eye,” the federal Department of Education encourages it, and that goes too far for conservative organizations.
“While the Alabama course of study does not list recommended books, the course of study does link to the national list recommended by Common Core,” Zeanah said. “Further, the State Department of Education’s own website contains a statement that highly encourages schools to teach the selections listed by Common Core.”
Others claim that a ban on the book isn’t what they’re after — they just want it removed from even being an option.
“The parents who are actively petitioning the school board to have it removed from the classroom do not want a complete ban on the book nor its removal from the school; rather they would like it to be removed from the approved reading list in the classroom, where students spending three to four weeks reading and discussing, in depth, the developmentally inappropriate material,” Politichicks author Macey France wrote in a recent article.
France, co-founder of the Stop Common Core in Oregon movement, refers to the book as “Common Core-approved child pornography,” rallying behind those who claim it has no place in the classroom.
“Children are simply not mature enough to process the violent, incestuous sex scenes in the book,” she wrote. “And yes, high school kids are still considered children! They are minors. They are not adults, and they are not in college. We need to use some common sense when choosing texts to be studied in the classroom. Children’s developing brains do not need to be assaulted with this notion of sexual violence. Educators are supposed to protect children from violence.”
Common Core is supported by dozens of educational organizations throughout the nation, including the American Council on Education, the Coalition for a College and Career Ready America and the American Federation of Teachers. The standards are an attempt to create an aligned learning system in the American education system — one that provides teachers throughout the country with the same tools and methods for academic achievement. Its aim is to raise the bar for all schools throughout the nation, while assuring that the quality of schools remains consistent.
Should literature be censored?
The call to rid American classrooms and libraries of “The Bluest Eyes” isn’t a new phenomenon. An entire exhibit created by the U.S. Library of Congress is devoted to books that have been banned throughout U.S. history — and the influence they had on society.
The exhibit, titled Books that Shaped America, details the stories behind once-banned books now recognized as gems of American literature.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” was among those once banned in the U.S. Now considered a classic and a high school educational tool in many schools throughout the nation, it still runs up again criticism from conservative circles, who claim it is too sexual in nature, as it contains one vaguely described sex scene. Notably, it came under fire in 1987 from a Charleston, S.C. Baptist school because of “language and sexual references,” according to the American Library Association.
George Orwell’s “1984” was another classic challenged by public schools and libraries, as it was considered sexually explicit and pro-communist, according to the ALA.
While no one went so far as to describe those books as act of pornography, the new argument against “The Bluest Eye” does just that.
Some progressives are calling out the novel’s critics, claiming the efforts to label the book as child pornography more has to do with the concerted effort among conservatives to march against anything related to federal government initiatives.
“First, calling ‘The Bluest Eye’ child pornography is a troubling thing to do because it’s not true,” writes Alyssa Rosenberg with ThinkProgress. “It’s grotesque to accuse Morrison of producing child pornography when she’s doing anything but, and it suggests the weakness of the actual case against ‘The Bluest Eye’ that the novel’s detractors have to reach for this kind of hyperbole.”