Eye on Education

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

Author Toni Morrison

Angela Radulescu / Flickr

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.

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 Cleveland.com 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.


  • ann

    Kudos to you Ms. Terhar! Good to see a school member sticking up for what is right for the children! We put age restrictions on all sorts of things like video games, movies, tv programing, websites, ect….so why should books be any different. There are plenty of book choices that deal with similar racial struggles that can create a learning experience and dialog without kids being subjected to age inappropriate content. This book glorifies the view point of the pedophile and is just plain bad for the psychological well being of children. We are having a similar issue in our district with other questionable material as young as SIXTH GRADE!

  • Pearl Pullman

    I notice NPR via State Impact fails to link to any of the inflammatory text of Ms. Morrison’s book. It is written FROM THE PEDOPHILE’S POINT OF VIEW making child-rape sound positive. This is garbage & should not be in the schools, let alone on the Common Core list. The ACLU will back this baloney, but try to say a Christian prayer [which could also be a catalyst to discussion] and they’ll fight you all the way.

    • M_Bloom
      • Pearl Pullman

        There is nothing offensive in that sample & you must know it. How about linking to http://politichicks.tv/column/warning-graphic-common-core-approved-child-pornography/#bFyc8IO5QmIltWzY.99 and explain why you think it’s not offensive to indicate playing with the genitals of little girls is “like a party”?

        • M_Bloom

          We link to that exact Politichicks post in that story.

          • Pearl Pullman

            I checked again & it is not in this article. It appears to be in another article., I guess I have to read every article to find where you gave lip service to critics. You gave no indication of why the book has critics like an unbiased author would. You prefer to let readers think they have little to no ground for their objections. I go on morals and not Christian ones. This may be a fine book for adults, but NOT in a school.

          • Mark Stevenson

            Why don’t you publish the offensive and obscene text of the book right here M_Bloom? Please share it right here so everyone can enjoy this wonderful book….I dare you.

    • kiki

      It’s clear you didn’t read the book. There is nothing positive about child rape in The Bluest Eye. The book is written from the community’s and the girls point of view and shows how this rape leads to the young girl’s undoing. She loses her mind at the end of the book. Obviously you lost your mind at the beginning of the book, or you would have gotten that.

  • vernice taylor

    What is wrong in America is that “you people” want to “sugarcoat” and be “politically correct”, but it is what it is. Life is not always as beautiful as we would like. First let’s put aside our own prejudices and be objective. Why should any book be banned??? This IS America and we are now scrambling to go back to the top in Education, yet we want to stifle independent thought and forward thinking, by hiding as “Christians”. Let the educators in the school districts determine what is age appropriate just because two or more children are the same chronological age, does not mean they are the same mental age. So, we need to start looking at what is psychologically appropriate and stop focusing on “Age Appropriate for All” (because it is just not equal) We (adults) learn from even the youngest child and although we teach right from wrong, we must also teach the “why and why not”.
    I also believe we should have prayer in the schools and allow open discussion on religion and beliefs, it may make for a better world. There is research to show that prayer heals.
    So to those of you who believe in banning books, do you believe in banning prayer?

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