In support of the consistent opposition of the National Council of Teachers of English to unjustified removal of books and non-print media from schools and colleges; and in awareness that uncritical censorship of books continues unabated,
Be it resolved that
- Books and non-print media used in the public schools of Ohio should continue to be chosen by teachers, librarians, and administrators of local school districts, under the authority of the school board, to meet the educational needs of the serious student and the maturing mind; and
- Pressure to restrict the choice of local schools or to remove books and / or non-print so selected from classroom use or the shelves of the school library should be resisted, whether the pressure comes from local or state levels; and
- OCTELA send copies of this resolution to NCTE and any entity requesting said resolution.
Addendum to Censorship Resolution
OCTELA responds to Ohio School Board President Debe Terhar’s challenge of The Bluest Eye, 2013
Freedom to learn and think is a requisite of education in a democratic society, and in defense of that idea, we affirm the democratic process itself. It is the free exchange of ideas that is vital to the learning process and that has sustained our nation’s diversity and, to that end, the classroom teacher is central.
The recent challenge to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye alleges that certain passages of the book are deemed “totally inappropriate.” Challenger Ohio School Board President Debe Terhar says that she doesn’t want her grandchildren reading it, and she doesn’t want anyone else’s children reading it.” In Morrison’s novel several characters try to develop their own self-worth in a society full of both racism and classism. Set in the 1940’s, Pecola Breedlove, the book’s heroine, is a black girl who longs for blue eyes thinking that if she had blue eyes like a white person, her life would be better. However, the novel develops into a situation where Pecola is raped and impregnated by her father. The novel is on the suggested reading list for Ohio’s Common Core curriculum standards in the 11th grade and is not required of any school or teacher. John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, states “Local school districts make their own decisions.”
While Morrison presents an ugly picture of the world, we must acknowledge that ugliness does, indeed, exist in the world and while challenges to literature with difficult themes is nothing new, there are many redeeming qualities to Morrison’s novel:
- The novel looks at the continuing effects of racism and its pervasiveness for a community.
- The novel has literary quality: irony, metaphor, authentic dialogue, presentation of character types, and unity.
- The novel is not divisive as suggested by Mark Smith, president of Ohio Christian University. Laura Struve, Associate Professor of English, Wilmington College writes, “I can’t see what would be divisive about any of the novel’s core messages: racism is bad; children shouldn’t be abused; rape and incest are wrong; societies that tolerate or ignore child abuse are letting children suffer” (“Here Is What’s Wrong with Banning the Bluest Eye.” Guest Post 19 September 2013: PB Blunderbund).
In choosing literature to be used in the classroom, a teacher must consider the entire text. Millie Davis of the National Council Teachers of English Anti Censorship Center writes, “The ethical and literary value of a work is distorted if one focuses only on particular words, passages, or segments. Further, it would be wrong to assume that the disturbing scenes, profane language, or negative events portrayed in a work are being endorsed by the author, the teacher, or the school.”
The Ohio Core Standards are rigorous, and the list of suggested reading gives that curricula richness of learning. These titles are suggested and are not required reading; however, many of them are chosen to pair with the classic collection of titles that offer students the ability to expand their thinking and to enrich their appreciation for a variety of literary works.
Referring to The Bluest Eye as “inappropriate” or “divisive” ignores its core themes and denies students the opportunity to develop their powers of discovery, perception, and judgment encouraged by teachers committed to the principles that these powers are best nurtured by free and open inquiry. Books used in the public schools of Ohio should continue to be chosen by teachers, librarians, and administrators of local school districts, under the authority of the school board and which meet the educational and emotional levels of their students.
Freedom to read is not only essential to American democracy, it is also guaranteed in our constitution. OCTELA recognizes that censorship denies individuals this freedom to choose and think for ourselves. As Courtney Young, the American Library Association President-Elect, states, “The danger does not arise from viewpoints other than our own; the danger lies in allowing others to decide for us which reading materials are appropriate” (“Freedom to Read Under Fire.” Huff Post Books: 11 October 2013).
OCTELA therefore endorses NCTE’s “The Students’ Right to Read” and the American Library Association’s “Freedom to Read” statement. While we recognize that The Bluest Eye will not be removed from the suggested Ohio Common Core reading list, OCTELA retains this statement to acknowledge why books like The Bluest Eye are important for students to read.