The mother of a high school student in Fairfax County, Virginia wants her son’s school district to stop teaching Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved to high school students. According to the Washington Post, Laura Murphy knows that her quest to have the book banned from schools will probably be fruitless, but she hopes that in the long run, her efforts will result in parents having more control over what their children read in school.
“I’m not some crazy book burner,” Murphy, a mother of four, insisted to the Post. “I have great respect and admiration for our Fairfax County educators. The school system is second to none. But I disagree with the administration at a policy level.”
In spite of the awards and accolades won by Beloved and its author, who won a Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, Murphy feels that the book’s theme of the brutality of slavery and scenes depicting gang rape, infant murder and violence are too intense for high school seniors. She said her son had nightmares when he had to read the book for his senior English course.
“It’s not about the author or the awards,” said Murphy. “It’s about the content.”
On Thursday, the Fairfax County School Board voted not to hear Murphy’s challenge to the book. She now plans to take her fight to the Virginia Board of Education.
Fairfax County has never banned a book from its schools outright, although it has stipulated that certain books only be available to older students. The board has reviewed only 19 books since 1983.
Beloved is the harrowing story of a slave woman in the antebellum South who murders her own child rather than have it grow up knowing only a life of bondage. Barbara Jones, director of the American Library Association told the Post that the book’s merits outweigh the harshness of its more brutal details.
“It’s a painful part of the African American history in parts of this country,” she said. “A lot of parents understandably want to protect their children from that…However, we would strongly advise people to read the book as a whole before they make a judgment.”
Teachers in Fairfax County must notify parents two weeks ahead of time if they want to show an R-rated film to students, as well as issue warnings about mature Internet content, but no warnings are required for books. However, students can opt out of reading books they find objectionable or disturbing.
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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