The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on Sept. 12 criticized State Board of Education President Debe Terhar, a Cincinnati Republican, for calling Toni Morrison’s book The Bluest Eye “pornographic” and suggesting it be removed from the state’s teaching guidelines.
“Unfortunately, your comments are another in a long history of arguments that advocate the banning of African American literature because it is ‘too controversial’ for schoolchildren,” wrote Christine Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio, in a letter to Terhar. “Rather than removing these books, the ACLU encourages schools to use controversial literature as an opportunity to improve students’ critical thinking skills and to create open dialogue between students and the community.”
Terhar and others have criticized the book because it contains a scene in which a father rapes his daughter.
The Common Core standards adopted by Ohio suggest The Bluest Eye as an example of reading text complexity, quality and range for high school juniors who are typically 16 or 17 years old, but it’s ultimately up to school districts to decide whether the novel belongs in the curriculum.
Removing mention of the book in the state’s guidelines wouldn’t explicitly ban the book in Ohio schools, but it would weaken the novel’s prominence as a teaching tool.
The ACLU claims the book provides an important take on racism in America: “In the case of The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison seeks to promote this type of dialogue by taking a bold, unflinching look at the pain and damage that internalized racism can inflict on a young girl and her community.”
The ACLU’s letter concludes by inviting Terhar and her fellow board members to an ACLU event in Columbus on Sept.
Morrison, a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author and Ohio native, responded to Terhar’s comments in a phone interview with Columbus’ NBC4: “The book was published in the early '70s and it has been banned so much and so many places that I am told I am number 14 on the list of 100 banned books.” She added, “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.”
Terhar later said in a statement released through the State Board of Education that she was stating her own opinion and her comments do not reflect the views of the rest of the board.
The latest controversy isn’t the first time Terhar has found herself in trouble over public comments. In January, Democrats called for Terhar to resign after she compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler in a Facebook post after the president proposed new gun control measures.