Friday “Fuck, Yeah!”

Actually, this happened late Wednesday night, but whatever.

The North Carolina’s Randolph County school board – you know, the one that banned Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man after a single parent complained that it was “inappropriate” for 11th graders? – held an emergency meeting on Wednesday night.  It seems that there was so much protest over the move to ban the book – which is nearly universally accepted by English teachers as a cornerstone of American literature – that the school board had to bow to the pressure.

Rightly so, I think; I got my hands on the 12-page complaint this mother filed, and I was not impressed.  Instead of making a case for her accusation that the novel was inappropriate, she simply cut and pasted passages from the book that she felt were explicit.  She took the passages completely out of context, and she made no effort at all to offer up a critical analysis that justified her objections.  Basically, she picked out a bunch of “dirty” parts, pointed to them, and said, “LOOK!  LOOK at that!  That is inappropriate!”  I would have had much more respect for her if she’d at least tried to make a case (I would still have disagreed that banning the book was a good idea, but I’d have given her props for the effort.  As it was, she seemed barely literate herself; the spelling and word choice errors in the document were pretty significant, but that’s another matter entirely).


The school board held the meeting, and the 5-2 vote to ban the book was overturned 6-1.

I cannot say that I’m surprised by this (though I will cop to being surprised that the board voted to ban the book in the first place.  I think a prerequisite for serving on a school board is that one pledges to NEVER allow a book to be banned in their district, but that’s just me).  I heard that a local bookstore offered free copies of Ellison’s novel to anyone in the county who wanted one, and they ran out of copies in ridiculously short order; they were in the process of soliciting donations so they could resupply, so the ban was pointless on its face.  Really; the fastest way to get most teenagers to do something is to tell them they can’t do it.

It is my dearest wish that every junior English teacher drop whatever she or he is doing right this minute and start the unit on Invisible Man.  I also hope that they devote an inordinate amount of time and attention to deconstructing what just happened in their school district, and to teach their students how to think critically about it.  Some righteous outrage is in order; no one should be making decisions for you about what you can and cannot read.



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3 responses to “Friday “Fuck, Yeah!”

  1. Boy, I made it through high school, a BA in English, and through most of a MA in literature and never read Invisible Man. I don’t even know what it’s about. Is there a hole in my education?

  2. Jules, there are so many books I missed out on, too. I often wonder how I got two degrees in English without ever being assigned some of the heavy hitters. I would recommend Invisible Man (or Native Son; which is the one I usually teach). You do have a hole if you’ve missed both of these books. There’s a lot of important thinking to be done with them about issues of race, privilege, poverty, and choice.

  3. I, too, was never assigned them and haven’t gotten to them yet. Looking forward to it.

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