Two frequently-challenged novels by African American authors are once again under fire in North Carolina–this time from a parent whose daughter is not even in the class where they were used. Wendell resident Dawn MacGibbon is pushing for Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple to be removed from classes in the Wake County School District after a friend of her daughter read her a few passages.
The two novels were assigned in an Advanced Placement English class at East Wake High School. After MacGibbon’s daughter’s friend who is taking the class read her a rape scene from The Color Purple, she submitted a formal request for reconsideration to the county because she believes the sexual assault and violence in both books “are not topics for 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds to be reading about or discussing.” School district spokesperson Renee McCoy says that the AP English teacher has already responded to MacGibbon’s complaint by making The Bluest Eye optional, but MacGibbon says that’s not enough–although the story from the Eastern Wake News doesn’t specify exactly what she does want. Her challenge to the books will now proceed through a formal process which “will include a review by a board made up of educators and other parents.”
According to MacGibbon, school district officials initially may have tried to disavow responsibility for selecting the texts, directing her to the College Board which administers AP tests and publishes some supporting curriculum materials for teachers to use. As a College Board spokesperson pointed out, however, they do not tell teachers or schools which texts must be covered in AP classes. It’s possible though that the school district was actually pointing MacGibbon towards the official AP English course description, which includes a strong intellectual freedom statement:
[F]air representation of issues and peoples may occasionally include controversial material….AP students should have the maturity, the skill and the will to seek the larger meaning through thoughtful research. Such thoughtfulness is both fair and owed to the art and to the author.
Both books have recently been challenged elsewhere in North Carolina. Late last year, The Color Purple was retained in Brunswick County AP classes despite a challenge from a parent and member of the county commission who said it contained “immorality” and “filth.” And just last month The Bluest Eye–which has seen an explosion of challenges due to its status as an exemplar text for the Common Core State Standards–was brought up in testimony before the state legislature, with one parent claiming that it “teaches our young pornography.”
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.