Supporters on both sides of a controversy surrounding the use of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” spoke during public comments at the Berkeley County School Board meeting Monday night.
Discussions about the use of the book, including a call for it to be banned by some, began earlier this month as the book was taught during classes in a 10th grade English class at Spring Mills High School.
Those calling for the book to be banned outweigh supporters of “The Bluest Eye”, as many have expressed concern and disgust at the graphic nature of the novel, particularly a rape scene between the main character and his father which is described in detail.
“It’s not about race. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats,” said parent Kandice Eckert. “It’s about the vulgar nature of this book. is crucial, but it has to be done without this book.
The book was included in a lesson on racial injustice given by a high school teacher. Eckert, who initially brought the situation to light, withheld the teacher’s name from the public out of respect.
Eckert pointed out that she thought the book was too graphic for high school students and raised concerns about the trigger material for those who might have been abused themselves.
While several other parents and community members echoed Eckert’s sentiments, including an assurance that they would continue to call for the book to be banned, a sophomore from Spring Mills High took the microphone to speak from the students’ point of view.
Kamrie-Lyn Alder explained that she had read and studied “The Bluest Eye”, as well as taken classes on African American literature and other cultures and supported international human rights.
“It’s not about religion. These are not political parties. It’s not about your ego. It’s not about race. It’s about the fact that we students don’t want to read detailed descriptions of an active incest rape scene,” Alder said.
Alder described the plot of the book, which follows an 11-year-old black girl named Pecola who wants her to match society’s beauty standards.
“During the novel, Pecola is raped and sexually abused by her father, which leads to him impregnating her,” Alder said. “Not only that, but by the end of the book, she goes mentally insane due to schizophrenia. It’s said to be due to sexual abuse and her obsession with blue eyes. The themes of the book include, but without limited to, rape, incest, domestic violence, alcoholism, infant mortality.
She pointed out that the graphic detail is the problem, adding that the book could be classified as acceptable for secondary school students, i.e. based on readability and not content.
“PBS completely banned the book, and the book found a place on the American Library Association’s list of most disputed books due to sexually explicit content, numerous graphic descriptions and many disturbing images, as well as an underlying socialist-communist agenda,” Aulder said. “It wasn’t the message of the book or the mention of the rape that made many of us uncomfortable. It was the in-depth and disconcerting scenes. Many school boards across the country have already banned the book.
Alder concluded by asking how books such as ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ and others found a place on the banned list, but ‘The Bluest’ did not. eye”.
Among other speakers, a man spoke about his own experiences with sexual abuse, pointing to the triggers reading “The Bluest Eye” and similar books might have on others who have dealt with abuse.
At the end of the public comments, a parent, Misty Mason, asked for more transparency on behalf of the district in light of the situation, pushing for things to be posted on the BCS website. She said parents don’t always receive all the paperwork, like a disclaimer on books or lessons like “The Bluest Eye,” from their children.
A pair of speakers took the floor at the start of the public commentary to support the teaching of “The Bluest Eye”.
Tanner Boeckmann, a secondary education student at Shepherd University, said his love of reading and writing drove him into the field to begin with and the freedom to share literature with others was important. .
“It’s an amazing and powerful book worth reading by students,” Boeckmann said.
He spoke about the injustices faced by black Americans that are a theme of the book, as well as the “harsh realities” of rape, racism and abuse. Boeckmann recalled that an alternate assignment was provided for those who did not wish to read “The Bluest Eye” and that students received a content warning.
Boeckmann urged the council not to ban the book, asking those who support the ban if they paid attention to other media consumed by children.
Former library media specialist, ELA teacher and administrator Faye Stump, grandmother of two BCS students, also urged the board not to ban the book. She said she passionately believes censorship is a violation of human rights, implying that the ban would be censorship.
Stump said Morrison is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, among other accolades, and also recalled alternate postings and warnings given. Although she said she understands the sensitive nature of the content, young people today are aware of mature topics.
“They definitely know more than my generation at their age,” Stump said.
She concluded by emphasizing that reading about uncomfortable topics leads to important conversations to address and prevent problems and become better citizens. She said reading enriches life and worries that banning one book will lead to many calls for other books to be banned.
At the end of the meeting, BCS Superintendent Dr. Patrick K. Murphy addressed the situation, assuring the district is taking steps to be more transparent online and to view approved playlists.
Murphy said the district is working to get the programs posted on the BCS website and for the district to listen to.
The documents will go through a review process, which is currently being worked on, and Murphy said he will report on the process and review not only the books in question, but any additional documents that have were adopted with the adoption of the ELA manuals last year.