Book on school’s suggested reading list draws controversy

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LEHI, Utah -- Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison published her first novel in 1970, and still all these years later, “The Bluest Eye”, is just as controversial.

“I don’t think that it would be appropriate for this age,” said Marie Nuccitelli, a parent of two students at Lehi High School.

She stumbled across critical reviews of the book's content a few days ago and was stunned to learn it was on the suggested reading list for advanced placement English students at LHS.

“I haven’t read it in its entirety,” Nuccitelli said. “Just what I read in the excerpts, as an adult, is a book I wouldn’t choose to read. There are so many books available that can explore those topics that would give them insights at a more age appropriate level.”

The plot centers on a black, 11-year-old girl living in Ohio, who wishes she had blues eyes in order to fit in with other children. While the novel is considered by some to be an insightful commentary on important issues, it's currently number 15 on the top 100 banned/challenged books of the decade, due to its graphic depiction of subjects, such as rape, incest and pedophilia.

Nuccitelli would like to see the book removed from the list at LHS, and also from the Common Core exemplary text list, which helps dictate what level of reading is appropriate for different age groups.

An excerpt from Morrison’s novel is currently on the list, which has caught the attention of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum.

“We’re going to have high school children reading about the pleasures of a pedophile? I think that should be illegal,” said the group’s president, Gayle Ruzicka. “I would just think what should happen is that the school board, the teachers, the administrators, all of them, should say this is off the list, this is out of our school.”

But according to University of Utah associate professor Lauren Liang, the exemplary list is meant to help dictate what level of reading students should be at, not what books they should read.

“It has challenging vocabulary, there’s challenging sentence structure in there, and they’re really simply trying to pull passages to say, ‘Districts, schools, educators, look at this. Can you find texts that are like these?’” said Liang, who teaches in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Utah.

Liang, who has read the book, said that's why “The Bluest Eye” has long been a point of reference for educators.

“’The Bluest Eye’ is a good example of a story that’s talking about racism and classism and individuals kind of trying to prove their own self-worth,” Liang said, “which is why it’s been in so many secondary schools for some time.”

But as seen throughout history, it still remains a controversial one. Nuccitelli has already contacted one state lawmaker to express her concerns about not only the book, but also Utah’s alignment with Common Core.  However, as other educators pointed out, the Common Core list of sample texts wasn't requiring schools to administer the book. The decision is made by school faculty, but Nuccitelli is hoping that such a decision making process will change to include input from parents.