Bowing to Tea Party pressure, Alabama State Senator Bill Holtzclaw said this week that he thinks The Bluest Eye, Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison's novel about a little black girl who wishes for blue eyes, should be banned in schools. He only made this statement after GOP members criticized him for opposing a repeal of the federal Common Core standards. The Bluest Eye is on the 11th grade reading list for the Common Core, a set of standards that has been adapted by more than 40 states.
Hotzclaw told the Alabama Media Group, "The book is just completely objectionable, from language to the content." The novel is seemingly the most controversial on the 11th grade reading list, and thus, an easy one to criticize — there have been efforts to ban it in schools and libraries since it was written in 1970. It does contain graphic scenes of forced sex (which the conservative blog Politichicks helpfully provided context-free in a post titled "(WARNING: Graphic) Common Core Approved Child Pornography").
The Common Core is the federal Department of Education's effort to make American schools more competitive on the world stage and more standardized across states. It began as a bipartisan project — governors and state superintendents brought together a panel of experts to write the standards, which focus on critical thinking as opposed to rote memorization.
Now, however, Tea Party conservatives are rejecting the standards, claiming that the federal government should not intervene in how states run their schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said of the standards in June, “The federal government didn’t write them, didn’t approve them, and doesn’t mandate them. And we never will. Anyone who says otherwise is either misinformed or willfully misleading.” Of course, his assurances meant nothing to some.
By last summer, 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards. Implementation has been rocky — the standardized tests associated with the Core are tough. Reports released in early August, for example, show that less than a third of New York students passed them this year. Still, Democrats think that with time, the standards will improve students' critical thinking and deep analysis skills.
So it seems that arguing about one book on one reading list in the Common Core isn't the best way to solve America's education program. Especially if that book was written by the last American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature — and that was a full two decades ago. Last year's prize went to a novelist from China, by the way. At least we have the VMAs.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.