Last week the school board in Gilbert, Arizona rebuffed an effort to remove Toni Morrison’s classic Beloved from a high school AP reading list.
The campaign against the book wasn’t the work of local parents; the national office of the group Parents of Murdered Children, based in Ohio, were responsible for generating over 100 letters to the school district. As the Arizona Republic reported, the group’s objection was based at least in part on the book’s depiction of violence:
“This book details a mother’s graphic murder of her own daughter … we at POMC find that it is offensive to require your students to read about murder and other violence,” wrote Dan Levey, executive director of the Ohio-based organization.
Another letter, though, expressed the hope that “these types of books” would be removed “completely and permanently. If not, you are pushing for us to become like Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Beloved has been challenged many times before. In 2007 the NCAC wrote to the Jefferson County Board of Education in Kentucky, arguing that the book “addresses the harsh realities of slavery and weaves together the memories of an escaped slave’s plantation days with the narrative of her struggles during Reconstruction….Confronting difficult themes in literature like those presented in Beloved is part of the educational mission of the AP program.”
Given that Beloved is “widely recognized as a work of significant literary and artistic merit,” the letter continued, “the school district would potentially put its students at an educational disadvantage in college if it did not introduce them to literature of this sort in high school.”
This isn’t the first time Gilbert, Arizona has been in the headlines. Last year the city’s school board made national news after it announced a plan to physically remove two pages from a high school honors biology textbook because it mentioned contraception. By December, superintendent Christina Kishimoto put the brakes on that plan, reportedly working out an arrangement so teachers would provide supplemental information instead of ripping out the ‘offending’ passages.
It’s good news that the board in Gilbert is not letting censors carry the day.