East Wake High parent objects to “The Color Purple” and “The Bluest Eye”

mhankerson@newsobserver.comApril 25, 2014 

— Dawn MacGibbon was, to say the least, taken back by what her daughter’s friend read to her from an assigned book in her Advanced Placement Literature course at East Wake High School.

The book, “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker, starts with a graphic description of a rape from the victim’s point of view. After “The Color Purple,” MacGibbon’s daughter’s friend was assigned “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison.

In that book, Morrison includes descriptions of one of the young character’s father raping her.

Those topics, MacGibbon said, are not topics for 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds to be reading about or discussing. Last week, she submitted paperwork for the county to reconsider allowing the novels in the classroom, complete with with 14 pages of excerpts from the books she found to be inappropriate.

“What I’m trying to do is bring to somebody’s attention is that this doesn’t belong in school,” she said. “It’s not even my daughter’s class and I’m in an uproar over this.”

The complaint will move through a review process that will include a review by a board made up of educators and other parents, said Wake County Public Schools spokesperson Renee McCoy.

She said MacGibbon’s specific complaint was resolved. The teacher of the AP class made “The Bluest Eye” an elective reading assignment and assigned the class Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

MacGibbon said even as a parent, the content of “The Color Purple” and “The Bluest Eye” were both too much for her and even though the books were replaced in class, she doesn’t think it’s enough.

“I have images in my mind that I can’t get rid of,” she said. “They’re not college-aged kids. In each book, a father rapes his daughter and these kids are impregnanted by their fathers. I’m trying to figure out why (for two books in a row, there is) the exact same content.”

“It wouldn’t bother me if there was no sexual content,” she said. “It’s descriptive, it’s like reading pornography.”

College Board, the organization that administers and creates the Advanced Placement program in the United States, addressed MacGibbon’s concern in an AP English course description.

“... recognizing the universal value of literary art that probes difficult and harsh life experiences and so deepens understanding, the committee emphasizes that fair representation of issues and peoples may occasionally include controversial material,” the description reads.

“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,” it says.

Going by the list

MacGibbon said she is trying to contact everyone she can think of, from legislators and politicians to other educators to find a way to get the books out of high school classes.

She spoke with East Wake High School administrators, but wasn’t satisfied with their explanation for how “The Bluest Eye” and “The Color Purple”were chosen for students.

According to her, MacGibbon said the school sent her to the College Board.

But Kate Levin, associate director of communications at College Board, said the organization does not tell teachers which books to use in their course.

Instead, they provide a broad list that teachers can choose from. The list includes Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.

“These authors are provided simply to suggest the range and quality of reading expected in the course,” Levin said. “Teachers may select works from these authors or may choose others of comparable quality and complexity. The choice of works for the AP course is made by the school in relation to the school’s overall English curriculum sequence.”

The list provided by College Board includes authors like Vladimir Nabokov, best known for his novel “Lolita,” which details a romantic relationship an adult man has with a young child and Sandra Cisneros’ “The House On Mango Street,” which narrates the main character’s experiences following a sexual assault.

MacGibbon isn’t alone in finding Morrison and Walker’s books inappropriate.

“The Bluest Eye” and “The Color Purple” have been the focus of other groups’ complaints recently in the state.

When opponents of the new Common Core standards shared concerns with the state legislature in March, some read passages from “The Bluest Eye,” claiming it taught students pornography.

The book is included in the Common Core “text exemplars,” which are examples of the kind of texts schools using the Common Core should assign to students in regard to the text’s “complexity and quality,” said a Common Core subject guide.

Wake County Public Schools has its own list for high school juniors, McCoy said. The district’s list does not include “The Bluest Eye” or “The Color Purple,” but teachers may choose books from other approved lists, including College Board’s AP book list.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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