As you may know, a small group of residents is engaging the Board of Education (BOE) and the public on whether or not a certain book should be used in the Brookfield Public Schools.
A bit of background.
First, we've been through this before.
When I was on the BOE, there was a similar flap over a few passages in John Gardner's Grendel — a retelling of the Beowulf myth from the monster's point of view. In its review of the book, the Christian Science Monitor said "It deserves a place on the same shelf as Lord of the Flies, Cat's Cradle and Catcher in the Rye." A Newsweek review called it "A marvelous novel — absolutely marvelous: witty, intelligent, delightful... a celebration and a conservation of what we most need in one of the greatest poetic myths we have... I cannot recommend it too highly." I read the book to get a fuller understanding of the issues being discussed. I have to say that I agreed with the reviews, and supported its inclusion in advanced level English classes — knowing that there was a review process in place and that there were always opt-out choices available.
The book now in question — The Bluest Eye — is by Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. Ms. Morrison has also been awarded the National Book Foundation's Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, as well as the National Humanities Medal. The New York Times' original review of The Bluest Eye says in part that it is "an inquiry into the reasons why beauty gets wasted in this country… with a prose so precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry." This is certainly not pornography, even though some have characterized it as such. Yes it has passages that are challenging. But in the context of the world we live in and the advanced level of the English class (it is only being offered at the Honors level), the option to read and discuss challenging art in an educational environment is something I applaud.
So Is there an appropriate review process in place? Absolutely.
The school administration and staff have a long standing practice of reviewing materials to be used in class before they are presented. Reading lists are provided up front, and parents are given the opportunity to opt their children out of reading individual books, and for these children other reading opportunities are provided. The BOE's role should be to make sure this process is working.
What has happened in this case is that the system has worked exactly as intended. A book with educational value that's been used successfully in our district for years was included in the course. Out of the 75 11th grade students taking Honors English, 4 have opted out of reading this individual book while the rest — the vast majority — continued to experience a powerful work by a highly recognized and highly acclaimed artist.
It's notable that this book has been used in Brookfield since at least 1995 with no complaints prior to this year.
So while I appreciate the individual choices and decisions that parents must make, I also firmly believe that we should be expanding the opportunities we offer parents and students, not limiting them. We currently have a system that is not broken, but is in fact working exactly as planned. While the issue makes great headlines (particularly in an election year), I hope that the community will take a breath and understand that the system works, the administration is aware of concerns and has followed procedure, and that Board of Education members continue to work for the benefit of all of our students and not just the few.
So let me be clear. I applaud parents who are engaged in their child's schoolwork and who get involved. Constructive dialogue is important. I do not, however, support efforts by the few to seriously limit educational opportunities of the many. Attempts at censorship and reduction in educational opportunities should not be taken lightly.
Based on what I've learned, I look forward to reading Toni Morrison's book.