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Why Toni Morrison is Ticked Off at the Ohio Board of Education

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Monday, September 16, 2013 at 4:40 PM

Author Toni Morrison

Author Toni Morrison is a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Author Toni Morrison says she resents an attempt by the president of the state Board of Education to remove mention of her novel The Bluest Eye from state guidelines for schools teaching to the new Common Core academic standards.

The novel tells the story of a young black girl living in Lorain, Ohio who dreams of having blue eyes so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as white children. The book describes scenes in which the girl’s father rapes her.

Last week, state Board of Education President Debe Terhar called the novel “pornographic” and said she did not think it was appropriate reading for school-age children.

Terhar told StateImpact Ohio she did not want the state to ban the book. But Terhar said the state Department of Education should remove mention of the book from materials included on its website in order to avoid suggesting that the state endorsed the novel.[related_content align="right"]

Today, the Ohio Department of Education website still links to the document that mentions the book. (We asked a department spokesperson if the department plans to make any changes in response to Terhar's comments. We'll update this post when we hear back.)

Toni Morrison told NBC4 that The Bluest Eye has been banned from schools in other states.

But she said she resented seeing similar criticism of the book in Ohio, her home state:

"I resent it. 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."

A passage from the novel is currently included in a list of sample texts on the Ohio Department of Education website. That passage does not describe rape or incest. The passage was intended to illustrate the suggested difficulty level of texts assigned to 11th graders in schools that are teaching to the Common Core.

The ACLU of Ohio criticized Terhar's comments.

The novel "encourages dialogue and that's really what education is supposed to be about," ACLU of Ohio Policy Director Shakyra Diaz said.

The ACLU invited Terhar and other state board members to attend its September 26 Banned Books Week event celebrating the work of banned African American authors.

The editorial board weighed in on the issue too. Though most of the board thought The Bluest Eye should not be banned from schools, deputy editorial page editor Kevin O'Brien sided with Terhar. He wrote:

Good for Debe Terhar. A great many parents undoubtedly would prefer that their children not have to consider literary passages about fathers who rape their daughters. Innocence may be a difficult quality to maintain in children these days, but aggressively throwing it away by government-approved means is idiocy. This isn't a ban. It's a well-reasoned effort to remove a book with a smutty passage from the list of State Board of Education-approved reading material. [Ed. Note: The reading material list that mentions The Bluest Eye was not approved by the state board.] Parents who want their youngsters to read it are free to buy it or check it out of a library.

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