Monday Jun 24

hoppenthaler On Facebook today I read a piece that describes the act of a fool caught catering to the ignorant and malicious whims of other fools. In Alabama, according to multiple news sources, Senator Holtzclaw has called for Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye to be banned from the state’s Common Core Standards reading list for 11th graders, and he also said that he would support its removal from the state’s high school libraries as well. Of the novel, Holtzclaw says, “The book is just completely objectionable, from language to the content.” "I have told parents if you find something objectionable, I'll look at it and I'll listen to you and I'll lead the charge," said Holtzclaw, who found objectionable the fact that the novel graphically depicts incest and child molestation.

What he doesn’t understand, and what any parent who finds the novel objectionable doesn’t understand is what literature is for; that is, literature, as I’ve argued before, is for making larger our comprehension of an historical moment. It does so by contesting, verifying, and problematizing state-mandated, fictionalized or dummied down versions of human events. It focuses on that which was intentionally or inadvertently obscured. It tries to make it so that we can see a moment in its most honest-to-God-as-possible fullness. In other words, it doesn’t hide human misdeeds, nor does it sanction them; it places them before us so that we might better understand ourselves and others, so that we might change things just enough, so that we might all realize a more fulfilling future.

What, then, is the role of politicians and parents? Is it to lie to our children and say evil does not exist in the world? If you think it is, then you, too, are a fool. High schoolers today are well aware of incest, molestation, rape, racism, bullying, corporate greed, and all sorts of other abuses and misdeeds. They live them, or their friends do. By examining and discussing works like The Bluest Eye, students are able to think and talk these matters through; they are able to see that their own problems are not unique. It guides them toward empathy and compassion. Mr. Holtzclaw, and those who support him, apparently thinks that this isn’t something appropriate for the Common Core Standards. Jeez, a bunch of young people who realize that the world isn’t a rosy fiction, who care about one another and feel compassion for one another’s situations. That would be awful.

In his piece on Holtzclaw’s behavior, Challen Stephens points out that The Bluest Eye “is commonly challenged over sex scenes, child abuse, profanity and difficult subject matter.” Difficult subject matter. This gets at the root of contemporary attacks on liberal arts education and tea party zealousness in gutting the integrity of college and university curricula. Because it is difficult to pull the wool over the eyes of thinking humans, those who understand that each moment in time is more complex and ambiguous than those who would seek to subjugate us would have us believe, it is their obvious intention to dummy it all down and provide our children with only those “practical” skills that will prepare them best for a life of blind servitude and life in a corporate cubicle. And isn’t it so much easier to use fear as a tactic when we are ignorant, too?   Senator Holtzclaw, you are completely objectionable, from language to content, and if you succeed here, you make Alabama, and our country, a lesser, darker place.

"The end of art is peace."
               Seamus Heaney