Be it banned books or closings of drama productions, American public schools are no strangers to controversy. In an age of perpetual information, protecting the innocence of our children is a large concern for many Americans. This concern extends beyond the home and into the school, where a child undergoes most of their development and maturation. The material shown to a child will shape who they are as they grow up, and is that material not rightly subject to immense scrutiny?
In April of 2013, The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison, a parent requested that the book be removed from the bookshelves of Durant High School in Oklahoma after hearing of the book’s unsavory content, namely the gruesome rapes of Pecola Breedlove. She defended her request, referring to her actions as parenting and not censorship. While The Bluest Eye was later restored to Durant High School’s bookshelves, this is not the first time The Bluest Eye has stirred up trouble in public schools. The Bluest Eye is one of the top ten most commonly banned books and has been dubbed “common core approved child pornography”.
This debate hits home for me. Reading The Bluest Eye in freshman year was a revolutionary experience. I’m sure it is one of the few books I will remember reading in a classroom setting. Not only is its material provocative but its style is compelling. In an interview, Morrison once said that she wanted the reader to feel as though they were “co-conspiring with the rapist.” This questioning of morality and presentation forces the reader to confront just how gullible they might be. Is the book a wholly painful experience? Yes. Does its controversy stop it from being a necessary book? No. Is it necessary to shield our angelic, innocent youth ￼from Morrison’s devil words? Absolutely not.
It seems to me that more and more people are becoming more and more concerned with “protecting” the children, and censorship has gone rampant. Perhaps people believe that by erasing any exposure to unwholesome content and issues of depression, sex and violence will simply evaporate. But honestly, how ignorant can we be? Teenage years are years for exploration and invention, and not only must students be exposed to provocative material, but they must also be given a proper forum to express themselves to carve their own identity and opinions, discover what is moral to them, and to involve themselves in defining who they are. Students should feel comfortable expressing their more anomalous thoughts in a space where philosophical dissection is allowed. If content is altered, censored, and demonized under the guide of “protection,” how will our education remain culturally relevant? How will we learn to advance as a society?
Censorship isn’t just a student’s problem, it’s a teacher’s problem. “Tough Talk,” an article by MICA visual arts teacher Rachel Hallquist, discusses the issues that plague teachers when concerning censorship. According to Hallquist, many teachers set up initial guidelines for their student’s work. These guidelines are rarely crossed and are often created, not as a vail against impurity, but out of concern for the teacher’s job. Still, Hallquist has some concern over whether her request that things like sex, drugs, and violence not be portrayed in her class alienates her students. Perhaps these guidelines are damaging student’s mental health.
Censorship becomes a bigger issue when personal experience is involved. As artists we often draw from our own experiences and present those experiences to the public. Be it a fight with one’s mother or a discovery of sexuality, something personal goes into everything we do. In this kind of environment, the threat of censorship becomes the threat of extinction.
The Bluest Eye and other sensitive material can foster a sense of objective judgment and critical thinking. The Bluest Eye shaped me into who I am today, and if it weren’t for my English class during freshman year, I never would have read it. Censorship in schools can lead to the production of naive, apathetic, poorly educated adults and will corrupt, rather than protect, students. Therefore The Bluest Eye’s place is in the school, in the hands and sights of students.