State school-board president wants Toni Morrison book off reading list

Nobel Prize-winning author is from Lorain.
TNS Regional News
Sep 15, 2013


For the second time this year, Ohio School Board President Debe Terhar is under fire for voicing her personal opinion, this time about a novel by Ohio native and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison.

Terhar said at the state school board meeting on Tuesday that The Bluest Eye, Morrison’s first novel, should not be included on a suggested reading list for Ohio high-school students because it is “totally inappropriate.”

“I don’t want my grandchildren reading it, and I don’t want anyone else’s children reading it,” Terhar said at the board meeting. “It should not be used in any school for any Ohio K-12 child. If you want to use it in college somewhere, that’s fine.”

At the time, Terhar did not specify why she opposes Morrison’s novel, but said it is inappropriate for the school board to “even be associated with it.”

Set in the 1940s in Lorain, the book’s heroine is a black girl, Pecola Breedlove, who dreams of how her life would be better if she had blue eyes like a white person. In the novel, the girl is raped and impregnated by her father.

Neither the board nor the Ohio Department of Education made any immediate changes to the book list that is suggested, not required, in Common Core curriculum standards being implemented by Ohio and other states to better prepare students for college. The Bluest Eye is on the list for 11th-grade English/language arts.

John Charlton, spokesman for the Department of Education, said Morrison’s book is “not part of the new learning standards in Ohio and it’s not required of any school or teacher. Local school districts make their own decisions.”

“It’s not the position of the board that the book, or any book, be banned,” Charlton added.

Terhar was backed by fellow board member Mark Smith, president of Ohio Christian University, who said he is very concerned about such books, because they are “quite divisive, and the benefit educationally is questionable at the least.”

“I see an underlying socialist-communist agenda ... that is anti what this nation is about,” Smith said.

Morrison, a Lorain native, published The Bluest Eye in 1970. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988 and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993.

Paul Bogaards, head of media relations for Knopf Doubleday, Morrison’s publisher, sent a response to the Dispatch regarding Terhar’s comments.

“Toni Morrison’s contribution to American letters is widely known. ... When school representatives choose to trumpet ideology over ideas, asking for books to be banned or withdrawn, students suffer. We oppose literary censorship in all forms and support the First Amendment rights of readers to make their own reading choices.”

The Common Core standards have drawn fire from conservatives, and Morrison’s book has become the latest flash point because of its graphic rape scene. Last month, an Alabama state senator unsuccessfully sought to ban use of the novel in schools.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter to Terhar yesterday questioning her comments.

“Unfortunately, there is a long and troubling tradition of attacking African-American literature on the grounds that it is ‘too controversial’ for young people,” Christine Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio, said in a statement. “These attempts to ignore or gloss over complex issues do a disservice to our students, who cannot lead our future unless they fully understand the past and present.”

“We hope that Ms. Terhar and other members of the board will attend our September 26 event, where they may learn more about the many African American authors whose important voices have been misunderstood and attacked,” added Link.

Written in 1970, The Bluest Eye features Pecola Breedlove, a black child from Ohio who wishes she were white with blue eyes. Through the course of the novel, she becomes a haunting symbol of internalized racism as she is abused by her community and eventually raped and impregnated by her own father.

The ACLU asked Terhar and other board members to attend a Sept. 26 event in Columbus in observance of “Banned Books Week,” a national effort to spotlight literary censorship.

In a statement released yesterday, Terhar said her comments reflected her personal views and stressed that she remained “completely supportive of Ohio’s new learning standards.”

“The comments I made reflected my concern about the graphic passages contained in a specific text. I do not personally believe these passages are suitable for school-age children. Nothing more and nothing less should be inferred. In particular, no disparagement was meant towards the celebrated career of Ohio author Toni Morrison.”

After President Barack Obama’s call for stricter gun-control laws earlier this year, Terhar posted a picture of Adolf Hitler on her Facebook page with the quotation: “Never forget what this tyrant said, ‘To conquer a nation first disarm its citizens.’ — Adolf Hitler.”

She survived an ouster vote by fellow board members and apologized for her “error in judgment."


By Alan Johnson - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

Dispatch Reporter Catherine Candisky contributed to this story.

©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services



Hey lady, supervise your own kids and you will be able to pick what they do and do not read. But how dare you decide what MY kids will read! It was a "suggested" reading list - you could have chosen another book for your child if you didn't like this one. Or you could trust your young adult to read the book and form their own opinion.

Kottage Kat

Excellent read. Perhaps parents should read it and form their own opinion.
Incest is reality, Ms. Morrison handles it well, this book has been around a long time.
Prudish racial censorship at it's finest


Too many parents want the schools and government to PARENT for them these days. If parents took the time to understand what their kids were doing, reading and learning maybe they would be able to handle these things themselves. Just be cause you use a SCHOOL to BAN a book will not stop your child from going to a library and reading this or any other book. I really hope Debe Terhar's grandchildren or any other children in her care/family do not have library cards or internet access....they will see, read, learn MUCH WORSE than this book written by a literary great. Sometimes you should be careful what you wish for.


I wonder KKat, if you would want your child reading and discussing the book in a high school forum. If you want your kid to read it and discuss it at home, no one would stop you. But my tax dollars should not be promoting the pocketbook or the explicit sexual content portrayed by the author of this book.
Have any of you (besides KKat, who apparently read it) even looked at excerpts from this book?
Click the link to preview what Common Core curriculum thinks is ok to share with your children. (Hopefully your school doesn't!) Even heavily edited, this is still very graphic. So caution!
Common Core tries to "get away" with a rated G preview. See if YOU want to read any more after excerpt from Pages 162-163...not to mention have a school assign this to your 11th grader!
I just can't help but think some students would be very uncomfortable forced into a discussion about these situations in a classroom.
✰Oh, and my opinion that this book does not belong in the SCHOOLS is NOT an attack on African-Americans. Why does it have to get twisted by the ACLU into a race argument!? It's not even about "literary censorship." It's about PARENTING!


Let's try the link again. Sorry

Kottage Kat

Have no children, nor objection if I did. Noting date published it has been around for awhile. In this day and age, the kids have read far worse. Have you read it? ?


I have not read it. Will probably never read it. I have too many John Grisham, Gregory McGuire and Dan Brown books on my shelf to read at the moment.
It's rather irrelevant how long the book has been around. What makes it relevant is being placed in young adults school curriculum. The school can censor prayer, holidays, the Pledge of Allegiance , but allow porn?


Exactly. You can't say "Merry Christmas", but you can discuss graphic sexual situations. This is what is wrong with today's society.


Are you guys even kidding right now?? I followed the link and read the excerpts...if you people think this is appropriate reading for a high school student, you guys must be crazy. How about we just put "50 Shades of Grey" on the reading list??? I would have been REALLY upset if my teenage daughter brought this home from school as an assignment!


So you read the excerpts and not how they fit in the context of the story. Does your daughter watch 16 and pregnant? Breaking Bad? Sons of Anarchy? All available on television to all ages. This is on an upper high school suggested reading list. For all you know, your daughter has a friend living this experience. Or maybe it is affecting a 13 year old girl living in Norwalk with the story on the front page of the reflector. If you actually supervise every move your child makes, pick a different book. Or read the book with your daughter and discuss the whole story. Or censor on your own and rip out pages 162 & 163.


If I would "know" my daughter "has a friend living this experience" I would do something to get him/her professional help and not expect a teacher in a classroom discussing personal 'violations' publicly - wait for or be faced with an embarrassing "breakdown" in the classroom.


Page 181: “The little girls are the only things I’ll miss. Do you know that when I touched their sturdy little t*** and bit them—just a little—I felt I was being friendly?—If I’d been hurting them, would they have come back? . . . they’d eat ice cream with their legs open while I played with them. It was like a party.”


Anyone want their school kids reading this?

KottageKat's opinion doesn't count because thankfully she hasn't procreated.


I don't need to know how they fit in the context of the story. The fact that they are in the book at all makes it inappropriate. My daughter is in Law School now, but you can bet when she was in high school, she wouldn't have been watching ANY of those least not at my house! Except maybe 16 and Pregnant...then she may have watched it to see how irresponsiblity and ignorance can ruin your life.

Oh, and if a teenage girl is in that situation, I'm sure the LAST thing she wants is for a group of her classmates discussing it in front of her.

Kottage Kat

I lost 5 through stillbirth and miscarriage. What about all the books with the foul language, and the graphic sex. You can read the front page of the NR and see the reality of what is happening today. One can not shield the " little darlings " from the world forever. I find the video games far more offensive and influental (sp) in today's world.
Middle Right, Catcher in the Rye????? Lolita?????? My parents saw certain reading material as a chance for 1:1 and to educate, it is up to the parental involvement. Something that is sorely missing in many homes today.
Better take the Playboy magazines from beneath the mattress first.
Thank you for your opinion



Playboy is a lot less graphic than that book...

I agree that some video games are really offensive too, which is why if I had a teenage or pre-teen child now they wouldn't be glued to a video game or Ipad 24 hours a day.

I just don't think it is necessary AT ALL for this book to be in, fine.


Playboy magazines under a mattress is none of the school's business. I have yet to see the front page of the Register printing similar graphic porn smut that the particular novel we are discussing has in it.
If a parent chooses to allow their kid to read porn, then they should be the ones to have the discussions, not a teacher that may have no counseling experience dealing with such gross physical invasion & discussing how perverts are pleasured by it.
I don't like violent video games either, and I'm pretty confident they aren't allowed in school. If a parent/guardian chooses to purchase &/or supervise video game play, then that also is the parent's business.
You're welcome for the opinion and appreciate the discussion. ;-)


What about "To Kill a Mockingbird" that taught crazy things like treating people equal. BAN IT BAN IT NOW!!!! Grow up people your kids hear and read more filth on the internet and TV. I'm glad they're still reading books


It's attitudes like this that are what is wrong with today's society. The whole "well, kids see that stuff all the time so it's ok"...well it's NOT ok, and people thinking it's ok is why there are things on TV like Miley Cyrus' appalling performance. If more people stood up and said, "This is NOT ok AT ALL!!", maybe kid's today wouldn't be so screwed up!


Miley Cyrus is a GROWN ADULT....she is NOT a CHILD. She can do whatever she wants. And yes there are people who are ok with what she does. If you do not like it do NOT watch it. Do not let your children watch it. Children should not watch ADULT things. But those who think children, preteens, teens do not see or talk about these things at school or with other peers are just kidding themselves. With the internet, SMARTPHONES (that parents BUY for their children) and other media little Susie/Johnnie are going to see it. Like it or not. IF you choose for your child to not see better turn off the TV, the computer, the SMARTPHONE and the IPAD/POD. Oh and be sure they do not hang out with other kids too.


You are ridiculous. First of all, there is NO reason for a child to have a Smartphone. Period. Second of all, this is about a book with pornographic passages being taught in school. If you are ok with your kid reading porn at school, I feel sorry for your kid. I'm not okay with it.

Additonally, the fact that Miley Cyrus is an "adult" isn't the point.
The point was, that we have become so immune to blatent displays of sex in the media that people don't think it's a big deal.

I am not an idiot. I realize that in this day and age, there is stuff all over the computer; however, I do not think a book that contains this subject matter is suitable for high school curriculum. Where do you draw the line?? Would it be acceptable to use "50 Shades of Grey" in a literature class??


ladydye_5 truly doesn't get it. She must be ok with an ADULT performer shaking her nearly naked tush in front of her children and anyone else who was watching that would NOT have expected that on stage. I'm sure you've seen the Smith family's faces sitting in the front row by now!

Then ld_5 says, "If you do not like it do NOT watch it. Do not let your children watch it. Children should not watch ADULT things."
YET...if we choose to NOT let our children (watch)in this case READ it, she condemns 'us' for "censoring." (Evidently she is ok with letting children (under 18) read and discuss PORN and GRAPHIC SEX in a school classroom.)

The argument isn't that kids won't talk amongst themselves, be it via phone, internet or on the school bus! Of course they will! But filthy sexual garbage delivered in a smut novel does not have to be handed over and condoned by a school to kids under 18 as literature!

Kottage Kat

If you are offends, discuss it with the teacher, or ask your child to state his/her objections and remove themselves from the class. Last I checked this is still America and the right to do so remains


Seriously, KK?? I'm sure this book is being taught in a REQUIRED English know, one that you are REQUIRED to take. You don't just get to remove yourself from a class and graduate.


Or, they could give two choices on a note to be signed by the parent on which book their kid gets to read. Split them in to two groups so they still get their discussion/social time in.


Interesting. When I mentioned the name (he is dead now) of a perverted pig teacher feeling up 7th grade girls after class, it got deleted. Small towns small minds.