The Department of Education's controversial set of education standards being mandated by the state, also known as Common Core, is taking harsh criticism for its 11th grade suggested reading list. The book that has parents particularly fired up is Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, a popular selection of Oprah's Book Club. The curriculum describes the novel as: An Eleven-Year-Old African-American Girl In Ohio, In The Early 1940s, Prays For Her Eyes To Turn Blue So That She Will Be Beautiful, and in response, one town in Colorado has had parents petition to have the book removed from public schools suggested reading lists.
Although the book has extremely explicit sex scenes describing incest, rape, and pedophilia, it is a key thought-provoking literary work that students should have the opportunity to properly analyze and digest. Rather than say that the novel is inappropriate, it's more accurate to say that it's not appropriate for the younger generation. That being said, the actual demographic of students reading this book, right around age 16 and 17, are no strangers to the public world of sex. In reality, many of them are beginning to have their own sexual experience right around ages 16-18.
Undoubtedly, these students should have the opportunity to understand the countless poetic books discussing sex in a real-life and visceral way, especially in a historic context for their understanding of bygone perspectives. To deny them intellectual and challenging literature because the traditional community is too uncomfortable with taboo subjects like pedophilia and incest only deprives that student of understanding the deeper emotional and psychological complexities behind the taboo.
It is however, understandable that parents take issue with the author herself. In her research on the The Bluest Eye, Macey France exposes some shocking discussion by the author.
"Morrison, says that she wanted the reader to feel as though they are a 'co-conspirator' with the rapist. She took pains to make sure she never portrayed the actions as wrong in order to show how everyone has their own problems. She even goes as far as to describe the pedophilia, rape, and incest 'friendly,' 'innocent,' and 'tender.' It's no wonder that this book is in the top 10 list of most contested books in the country."
Nonetheless, this is one of the greatest benefits of these contended works. It is consciously designed to provoke a response, and that only emphasizes that a student is best served by discussing such responses and issues in a safe, academic setting like a classroom, where they can debate and fully appreciate the information Morrison was trying to impart.
Ultimately, this is the goal of education itself. So rather than hide their youth from frightening topics and reacting by sho'shoving them under the rug,' all parties- — students, parents, and the educational system- — be better served by recognizing and appreciating the value of such truthfully harsh works like Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye."