"The Bluest Eye" remains a point of contention in Chelsea

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The book, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, continued to be a big issue in the Chelsea School District during the August 23 school board meeting.

With some against it as a resource and some in support, the book has become a point of contention in the community.

After hearing concerns from many in the district and having her own, and then noting there were a few copies of the book in the Chelsea High School library, school board member Tammy Lehman put forth a motion at the meeting for the board to vote on, that if approved would have removed the book until it could be reviewed.

With Lehman as the only supporter, the motion did not pass.

The book became a big concern for many in the community after a graphic passage from it, parts of which depict incest and molestation, was read during a school board committee meeting in early August.

Noting she supports a lot of the components of the Diversity, Belonging, Equity and Inclusion (DBEI) initiative, Lehman said she doesn’t support the current platform that’s being used in the CSD. She initially made a motion to review all of the books in the CSD libraries that were on the list that was on the district's DBEI website as a resource.

The list of book resources from the DBEI website has come under question and is now under review. 

However, some of the books from that list do remain in the libraries.

Lehman said she was particularly disgusted to find out there are copies of Morrison’s book in the CHS library and concerned it would have administration approval.

She said it and probably the other books from the DBEI list should be taken out until they are reviewed and fully vetted, specifically with a committee formed of community members.

As discussion went on, Lehman amended her motion to just have “The Bluest Eye” removed from the CHS library until it could be fully reviewed.

Saying he understands the concerns with the specific graphic passage, fellow school board member Shawn Quilter said he thinks the book can still be used as a resource without using or teaching the graphic passages. He said they do need to talk about how to deal with it, but he doesn’t agree with taking it out and getting rid of the opportunity to access it for educational purposes.

In follow up by The Sun Times News, Quilter said he doesn't agree with removing a book that has been available for a very long time, “most of which is not controversial and demonstrates the concepts of racism, oppression and feelings of inferiority better than many other texts do.”

To help the community understand some of the details around this, CSD Superintendent Julie Helber said the following memo was sent to district families:

  • The District has an Equity and Social Justice Committee (ESJC) whose work is to evaluate long-standing values of diversity, belonging, equity and inclusion to ensure that our district is a safe place for all students.
  • The Board of Education has formed a DBEI Committee to review the work of the ESJC.
  • As part of its Martin Luther King celebration, One World One Family donated 13 books to the school district, all taken from a list of titles vetted by the ESJC members, except for one book on world religions, which was not on the list.
  • A graphic passage from one book that was donated, The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison was read by a community member at the committee meeting on August 9, 2021 because it was on a resource list on our website.
  • A community member recorded the committee meeting and distributed the passage that was read on social media channels.
  • Neither the passage read nor any other graphic excerpt from The Bluest Eye
    is used in any Chelsea School District class.
  • The Bluest Eye has been available for check out in the Chelsea High School Library for the past 20 years. It has been checked out one time since 2018.
  • Many other local high schools have The Bluest Eye available for check out in their libraries.
  • The Bluest Eye is on the College Board’s Advanced Placement recommended list for advanced readers and excerpts have appeared on the AP Test.
  • The ESJC resource list has been removed from our website for further evaluation.

The book by Morrison and published in 1970 is described on Amazon’s website, in part, by the following:

“Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison powerfully examines our obsession with beauty and conformity—and asks questions about race, class, and gender with her characteristic subtly and grace.
In Morrison’s bestselling first novel, Pecola Breedlove—an 11-year-old Black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others—prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.”

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