About the “Invisible Man” book banning in Randolph County, NC

Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison’s ”Invisible Man”: Too mature for high school students?

The story of the banning of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” book from Randolph County, NC school libraries has predictably made national headlines. Via a link from the Charlotte Observer, the LA Times reports:

Ralph Ellison’s novel “Invisible Man” has been banned from school libraries in Randolph County. The book is considered by many to be a masterful novel dealing with race in America.

“I didn’t find any literary value,” said school board member Gary Mason before the board voted 5-2 to ban the book.

Ellison’s “Invisible Man” won the National Book Award in 1953. In 1965, a national poll of book critics deemed it the greatest American novel written since World War II.

The book was brought before the board by a parent who lodged a 12-page complaint, Asheboro’s Courier-Tribune reports. She found the book’s contents inappropriate for her child, an 11th grader, citing its lack of innocence, its language and sexual content.

“You must respect all religions and point of views when it comes to the parents and what they feel is age appropriate for their young children to read, without their knowledge,” Kimiyutta Parson wrote in her complaint. “This book is freely in your library for them to read.”

A school-based, six-member media advisory committee recommended it not be removed from the library, and a 10-member district panel unanimously voted to keep the book on library shelves. A motion to keep the book on the shelves was defeated.

High school juniors were asked to read a book over the summer (honors students were to read two). They were given three choices: Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin, and “Passing” by Nella Larsen. All three books deal with race and identity.

That last line is especially important, because insinuated in some of the articles you read – and in the comments sections of some articles – you’d think the parent in question wanted to get the book pulled off the shelf for its racial content.   Reading the complaint itself you realize its more about the parent’s concerns about sexual content elements of the book – including incestuous rape.   I haven’t read the book, but others I’ve talked to about it have said this is not a dominant theme of the book.  Others who have read it and who are reading this post can correct me if I’m wrong.

Make sure to read the documentcloud link above. Pages 23 & 24 detail the decision of the principal, and select other Randleman High School educational administrators had come to which was to keep it on the shelves as per their strong belief in the instructional/educational value of the book.  To soothe the concern of parent Parsons, “The media center will place a warning in the computer system that the student of the concerned parent should not be allowed to check out the book.”  It wasn’t enough for the parent, whose appeal is detailed on page 35. The timeline of events, prior to the school board voting to ban the book, is on pages 1 and 2.  The decision to ban the book was the Randolph County BOE’s decision – it did not come from the school itself.

My thoughts, in random order::

1) Parents taking an active interest in their child’s education, what they’re being taught, what they’re being asked to read, is a good thing.  The number one complaint I hear from teachers is that not enough do.  This can also be a double edged sword, however, as some parents can blow an issue out of proportion, which I believe the case is here. This parent took her concerns for her child, and attempted to decide what was best for other students to read. Naturally, this is going to create a problem.

2) If a parent has an issue with what’s being taught, suggested reading lists, etc, they should complain to the school, as this parent initially did.  This is standard operating  procedure.  Sometimes the issue is obviously legitimate – sometimes it is not.  And then there are the troublesome “gray areas.”  The ultimate decision of the “legitimacy” of the issue is in the hands of the school and ultimately the school board, should the issue escalate to that point. Whether we like it or not, this is a public school system and ultimately they decide these issues, not parents.  More on that in #8 below.

3) Unfortunately, in this case, it did make its way to the county school board, which was unnecessary in my view. The school itself took steps to make sure the student of the parent wouldn’t have access to the book, but the parent took it upon herself to declare the book unfit for high school students in Randolph County, and escalated the issue when her concerns weren’t met.

4) This in spite of the fact that the reading of “Invisible Man” was optional – there were other choices, as indicated per the LA Times article, for a student – including her child – to choose.  And that being the case, the parent could have simply chosen to have her child not read the book and let that be the end of it. She didn’t.

5) I don’t react to stories of book bannings in the way some people may – state Departments of Public Instruction around the country have “approved reading lists” designed for age/grade-appropriate levels, which I suspect most parents would agree with should they review the lists. For example,  if “Invisible Man” had been on the suggested reading list for 4th graders and a parent complained about it, I suspect you wouldn’t hear near the outcry you are now.

6) Unlike in the 60s and other eras where book banning – and burning – meant it was hard for you to get your hands on a book you wanted to read, or you wanted your child to read, we live in an e-book nation now, where any book you want is available after a couple of button clicks.  No book is really “banned” anymore if you really want to get your hands on it, whether it it in e-book form or hard copy.  Thank God!

7) A common refrain from liberals I’m hearing over this is “way to let one bad apple spoil it for everyone else!” These same liberals need to remember that next time one of their own complains to a school about the display of a Christmas tree as “offensive.”  Thank you.

8) This issue of the “Invisible Man” book banning was first brought to my attention by a Facebook friend last week, and a commenter  to her post summed up this issue perfectly, IMO:

(ACL wrote): This sort of thing will always recur as long as governments have a monopoly on delivering education services. It won’t change until parents decide that the sacrifices they’d have to make to take personal responsibility for their kids’ education are worth it, and yank their kids out, opting for homeschooling or private schools. 

Public schools can’t be “fixed” any more than ObamaCare can. The model doesn’t work, because it’s designed to be unresponsive to parents and indifferent to childrens’ individual needs and interests. The only solution is to scrap the way we’ve done education for the last century and start over from scratch.

Agreed, which is why I’m very happy that the GOP-led NC General Assembly passed school choice initiatives that were signed into law by the Governor over the summer. Naturally, liberals militantly opposed this. I know. Shocking.

I’m interested in reading reader thoughts on this, especially if similar issues have popped up in your community.

For what it’s worth,  it appears the Randolph County school board will revisit the issue this coming Wednesday, so it is possible a reversal on the ban may take place.  Stay tuned.

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