General Articles

Alabama: Opposition Links ‘Common Core’ to ‘Hard Core’

Alabama: Opposition Links ‘Common Core’ to ‘Hard Core’

Opponents of comprehensive sexuality education in Alabama have found allies in state legislators opposed to the Common Core State Standards, a set of K-12 academic success measures developed under the guidance of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.[1] Although Common Core standards currently cover only English and math, they reflect a longstanding but controversial drive toward standardization of curriculum in U.S. public schools. Opportunities for Alabama students to learn about sexuality through literature are now under attack.

To advance their war on the Common Core – which Alabama adopted in 2010, along with 44 other states – conservative legislators and their constituents have seized on a Toni Morrison novel included on a Common Core recommended reading list for 11th grade students. The Bluest Eye, published in 1970, addresses sexuality in ways that the opposition has labeled “Common Core-approved child pornography.”[2]

Morrison’s novel tells the story of an African American girl named Pecola, who grows up during the 1930s and 1940s in Lorain, Ohio, and, made to feel ugly by the black adults and other children around her, longs to have the eye and skin color of her white peers. The story includes scenes in which Pecola experiences incest and sexual assault by her father. The girl becomes pregnant but the baby is born prematurely and dies. The novel’s observations about race are at least as potent as its observations about sexuality. Shortly after its publication 43 years ago, New York Times book reviewer John Leonard wrote:

“Miss Morrison exposes the negative of the Dick-and-Jane-and-Mother-and-Father-and-Dog-and-Cat photograph that appears in our reading primers, and she does it with a prose so precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry.”[3]

State senator Bill Holtzclaw, a Republican who initially defended the Common Core and even worked to block its repeal in the state legislature, has found a way to burnish his conservative credentials by denouncing Morrison’s novel and demanding that it be explicitly banned from Alabama public schools. Allies such as the Alabama Federation of Republican Women have warmed to his crusade, asking “Is it appropriate for Alabama high school students to [discuss] a pornographic book about rape and incest?”[4]

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has spoken out in defense of the novel and its inclusion on the Common Core recommended reading list. Maureen Costello, director of the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project, noted that sexually frank fiction is hardly a new challenge for teachers. As she told Education Week, “‘teachers, as professionals, should be trusted to handle that.’”[5]

Brain science has been invoked by some opponents who link the sexual content of The Bluest Eye to the perceived menace of national educational standards for literacy. Macey France, an Oregon-based Common Core opponent and contributor to the conservative blog Politichicks,[6]

insisted that “Children’s developing brains do not need to be assaulted with this notion of sexual violence…Children are simply not mature enough to process the violent, incestuous sex scenes in the book.”[7]

Coming early in Alabama’s 2013-14 school year, it remains to be seen how the opposition’s drive to link Common Core with incest and rape will impact sexuality education in the state’s public school districts. With an assist from State Senator Holtzclaw, conservatives have achieved an early start in framing opposition to the Common Core in terms of sexualization of children whose brains must be protected from ‘pornography.’

Author Morrison, the last American to win the Nobel Prize in literature,[8] has so far refrained from public comment about the Alabama controversy.

[1]Common Core State Standards Initiative web page, accessed August 20, 2013 at

[2] Trisha Marczak, “Toni Morrison, Child Pornographer?,”, September 7, 2013, accessed September 12, 2013 at

[3]John Leonard, “Books of the Times: The Bluest Eye,” New York Times Book Review, November 13, 1970, accessed September 12, 2013 at

[4] "’The Bluest Eye’ Novel About Rape and Incest Is The Latest Controversy Over Common Core,”, September 4, 2013, accessed September 12, 2013 at

[5] Anthony Rebora, “'Bluest Eye' Becomes Common-Core Flash Point,” Education Week Teacher, September 3, 2013, accessed September 12, 2013 at

[6]Macey France, author bio,, accessed September 12, 2013 at

[7]Marczak, “Toni Morrison, Child Pornographer?”

[8] Allie Jones, “Alabama Republican Wants to Ban Toni Morrison's 'The Bluest Eye' from Schools,” The Atlantic Wire, August 29, 2013, accessed September 12, 2013, at