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I live in Northern Virginia, you know the sensible blue state portion of VA, but that didn't stop me from having an ARGH moment as I sipped my coffee and read The Washington Post Thursday morning:

Fairfax County parent wants ‘Beloved’ banned from school system

The Beloved in this case is Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize novel, and yes Toni Morrison as in the Nobel Prize in Literature winner in 1993.

The mom clutching her pearls is Laura Murphy of Fairfax Station, VA.

Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Murphy said, depicts scenes of bestiality, gang rape and an infant’s gruesome murder, content she believes could be too intense for teenage readers.

“It’s not about the author or the awards,” said Murphy, a mother of four whose eldest son had nightmares after reading “Beloved” for his senior-year Advanced Placement English class. “It’s about the content.”

Ms Murphy tries and fails to differentiate herself from others in the American Taliban:

“I’m not some crazy book burner,” Murphy said. “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.”
“I don’t shelter my kids, but I have to be a responsible parent,” said Murphy, who lives in Fairfax Station. “I want to make sure every kid in the county is protected.”
Now I'm slightly sympathetic to the notion that we must allow some parents to choose to shelter their precious brood from the evil world.  We can't force misguided parents to allow their children exposure to the real world out there warts and all.  However Lake Braddock Secondary School did not put a gun to the head of young Blake Murphy, a senior who was assigned to read the novel as a part of his AP English course.

It is Fairfax County policy to allow students to opt out of book assignments they find offensive, they have the option to select an alternative from an approved list for the class.  Moreover it is apparently policy to provide the assigned reading list at the beginning of the school year.  

Instead of opting out though Blake Murphy chose to read Beloved which apparently upset him deeply (Well duh, the reality of slavery should be deeply upsetting to those with a conscience!).  He apparently was upset enough that he stopped reading halfway through whereupon according to the story Mom went into high dudgeon against the Fairfax county school board for allowing any student to read Beloved.

Per the article Ms. Murphy has been at this since last year when her son began the book.  Blake, aged 19 is now a freshman at University of Florida, meaning he was likely 18 years old when upset by Beloved, old enough to be an adult and to go to war.

This story was troubling to me and not just because a seemingly ordinary mom was clutching her pearls.  I have my doubts that young Blake truly had nightmares, heck I wonder if he agrees with Mom's crusade.  I don't believe he deserves ridicule or mocking.  I bet pretty soon away at college he finally gets to be an adult with his own opinions, at least I really hope so.

It's Ms. Blake I wonder about.  Commentators on the story hint that Ms. Blake has been trying to get other books banned for many years.  Others have hinted that her Husband is a lobbyist at BRG and that Ms. Murphy self-published a wingnutty screed on morality.  Fairfax Station is a red leaning wealthy portion of Fairfax county, particularly Clifton and there are many prominent conservatives who choose to reside in Fairfax county.

The county school board is comprised of a diverse body of professionals who care deeply about children and education.  They upheld Fairfax School Superintendent Jack Dale's decision to refuse to ban the book.  But I fear Ms. Murphy is just getting started. I bet she tries to get satisfaction at the state level and perhaps the support of our wacky Attorney General Ken Cucchinelli.

Originally posted to akeitz on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 12:07 PM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter, Virginia Kos, and Education Alternatives.


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