Controversial book pulled from North Bend High class

School officials, students disagree whether removal was due to procedural miscommunication or graphic material
2014-05-19T16:30:00Z 2014-06-06T14:47:29Z Controversial book pulled from North Bend High classBy Chelsea Davis, The World Coos Bay World
May 19, 2014 4:30 pm  • 

NORTH BEND — Students in a North Bend High AP history and literature class are frustrated and confused after school administrators pulled Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” from their classroom last week.

On May 9, Dustin Hood and Scott Peters’ American Connections class started learning about post-World War II America. The class pairs history with literature, following literary movements in different eras. Peters complemented the history lesson with an assignment in postmodern literature: Read the first 30 pages of “The Bluest Eye” over the weekend.

“One of the trademarks of that literary movement is looking at the evils of humanity,” said Emily Midyette, a junior in the class.

The book deals with racism, incest and child molestation — topics that have gotten it challenged and banned in classrooms nationwide for years. It was the 15th most challenged book of the 2000s, according to the American Library Association. Just last fall, a group of citizens in a Colorado school district started a petition to remove the book and its “developmentally inappropriate and graphic content” from classroom instruction.

Peters prefaced the assignment by telling his class of 40 students about the controversial content. If they didn’t want to read it, they didn’t have to, he said. Six opted out and chose to read a different book.

But the following Monday, Principal Bill Lucero came to the class with a box and asked the rest of the students to hand over their copies of “The Bluest Eye.”

Lucero said the school district’s policy, “Studying Controversial Issues,” was not followed. It requires teachers to discuss studies in “an obviously controversial topic” with the principal before the class can begin. All texts must be reviewed and approved by school administration every year “and it just went by without being reviewed and we didn’t realize that,” he said.

The purchase of the books was approved by administration earlier this year, Peters said.

While he agreed that technically the policy wasn’t followed, he said very few are aware the policy even exists.

“That’s not why it was pulled,” Peters said. “And certainly the way in which it was pulled was not by policy either.”

Lucero said a committee read the book to “make sure it was right for our school and community.”

“We took a look at the book in the committee and decided we weren’t going to use that book this year,” he said. “We will have some further discussion as to whether to use it in the future or not.”

Assistant high school principal Jake Smith said there are “other options, other books that were available that portrayed the message the teacher was hoping to portray ... something that was more acceptable at school and more mild in terms of some of the content.”

Lucero contended the book is “pretty graphic.”

“Any postmodern piece you choose is going to have physical subject matter and it’s going to be controversial,” Peters said. “One defining characteristic of postmodern literature is shock. Another is aspiration of marginalized groups.”

The book examines the marginalization of African Americans, the poor, women and victims of sexual assault.

Elizabeth Rivera, a parent of a student in the class, agreed the book deserves a trigger warning — which the students received.

“I’m not going to sugar coat it. This book is not Dr. Seuss,” Rivera said. “It’s a heart-wrenching novel. But for me, the main argument is that precisely because of its hard themes there is a ... benefit to this discussion in an academic context.

“Removal of a text like that from a student’s hand is very problematic.”

Before Peters, previous teachers used “Catcher in the Rye” during this section of the class. But it’s written by a white male, as are all the other books in the class.

“I felt like it was irresponsible to teach a whole course ... all consisting of literature by white men,” he said.

The class has had to move on. Each student picked a book on their own — so Midyette chose another Morrison novel that’s been challenged and banned: “Beloved.” It’s the 26th most challenged book in the nation.

“Censorship is something we’ve struggled with as a nation for so long,” Midyette said. “It’s very disappointing to see it here in our own community.

“It’s really frustrating to students because we had all been given the choice to read it. We felt our choice had been taken away.”

The Oregon Department of Education has given “The Bluest Eye” the go-ahead, selecting it for its list of texts that meet the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.

In response to the debacle, Books By The Bay (Midyette’s father owns the bookstore) put both “The Bluest Eye” and “Beloved” on sale last week.

“I think that I have been characterized as trying to shake up the North Bend community, which is not my intention,” Peters said. “I’m just trying to do what I’ve been asked to do, which is teach a unit on postmodern American literature. I don’t know how to do that without choosing a piece of postmodern American literature.”

Reporter Chelsea Davis can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 239, or by email at chelsea.davis@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ChelseaLeeDavis.

Copyright 2015 Coos Bay World. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. TEP
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    TEP - May 23, 2014 3:24 pm
    I haven't read the book, but I read the catcher in the rye when I was in junior high school. Reading controversial books is all part of getting an education. I also read "the grapes of wrath", "the octopus", "the jungle", "the autobiography of malcom X" etc. I found them to be enlightening and very relevant to what we all face in the real world. Banning books is always a mistake. Students should be familiar with broad ranges of thoughts and perspectives.
  2. Mary E Ericson
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    Mary E Ericson - May 21, 2014 8:02 pm
    In 63-64 school year at NBHS Junior English class, controversial books were Catcher in the Rye and Laughing Boy. Parents complained but NBHS was steadfast in supporting the teacher, students felt respected and challenged. My junior English class was the most thought provoking class in high school and was the most relevant preparation for college. Toni Morrison is an excellent American female black writer addressing issues relevant today. It is a tragedy that The Bluest Eye was pulled.
  3. SkylerCurley167
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    SkylerCurley167 - May 21, 2014 6:34 pm
    I believe in your point, most people are hearing more profanity in one school day than the entire book probably.
  4. Eastsider
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    Eastsider - May 21, 2014 12:17 pm
    Got to wonder about the lesson Mr. Lucero just taught the students. What does he think they learned from his actions? Confomity is more important than character? If I were in the class, I'd be disgusted with being treated in such a condenscending manner. Who are the busy-bodies who complained? Speak up since you think you know what's good for everyone else.
  5. South Coast Educator
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    South Coast Educator - May 20, 2014 9:55 pm
    Mr. Lucero...c'mon, man! You used to be so mellow. I had you for your first year teaching. You were my basketball coach. Why are you doing this? North Bend High School is a bastion of ideas and thought. I fully support Mr. Peters. He gave his students a choice whether or not to read it, and warned them prior to beginning the book of possible offensive content. The NBHS I remember didn't ban books. We discussed their merit and thought critically about their content. Embarrassing!
  6. randomcommenter
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    randomcommenter - May 20, 2014 11:54 am
    As far as I am concerned, kids see way more graphic things at home on their parents TV's and over the internet. I would rather they read and discuss issues that are relevant, than study a book simply because it is "safe: from parent protest. And kudos to a teacher that has enough foresight to think about teaching from a book that wasn't written by a white male! I would have gladly had my kids read that book.
  7. Valerie Stein
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    Valerie Stein - May 20, 2014 11:24 am
    I was thrilled for my son, (a 2012 Valedictorian), as Connections pushed him to achieve excellence in his writing, not by putting shocking and explicit matter into his hands and head; instead he loved the primo piece, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Peters: Far better to discuss excerpts, make your point, then Inspire GOOD! Leave social agenda to college/village voices. NB schools must be safe haven for ALL when student's home lives are possibly abusive. Too naive to assume books can't cause hurt!
  8. BringItOn
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    BringItOn - May 20, 2014 10:33 am
    It also seems to be the epitome of irony regarding this subject that when a comment is submitted to the World that the message "your comment has been submitted for approval" pops up. “The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” — Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)
  9. BringItOn
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    BringItOn - May 20, 2014 10:29 am
    Mr. Lucero would like us to believe that this was just a "policy glitch" when it is blatantly apparent that this issue was brought to his attention by a "concerned" parent or two who think that if their kid shouldn't be exposed to controversial issues then nobody's kids should. Shame on the NBSD administration! Thank you Mr. Peters for trying to do the right thing. "Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there." - Clare Booth Luce
  10. Trish McMichael
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    Trish McMichael - May 20, 2014 7:58 am
    What teacher already taught The Bluest Eye this year?
  11. Nestle
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    Nestle - May 19, 2014 10:10 pm
    The biggest issue I see here is this book was on the syllabus for the class from day one. If there were objections to this book, they should have been presented to the teacher prior to the assignment being given and the books passed out to the class. The way this whole thing has happened was very poorly handled by the school district. This is public education. If parents object to the subject material, they should pull their child from the class.
  12. SkylerCurley167
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    SkylerCurley167 - May 19, 2014 9:43 pm
    I tend to see the issues of what is right and what is wrong to be shown in schools. The content matter of The Bluest Eye seems to be in some matters pretty explicit for a book to be read in a high school or even a school in general. Books like these are notorious for their history and may have a impact to whether or not to be read in schools at all. Stuff like incest and molestation are pretty taboo subject matter which leads to controversy. Great article though, I got some good info out of it.
  13. TooEarly
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    TooEarly - May 19, 2014 7:50 pm
    This is terrible. I wonder if Mr. Lucero was truly acting on committee recommendation. It is my understanding that no such committee reviewed this book, especially since another teacher at NBHS already taught with this novel this year. Hmm...sounds fishy to me.
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