Randolph County, N.C., apparently has decided to declare itself the nation’s illiteracy capital.
In response to a barely literate complaint from one Kimiyutta Parson, mother of an eleventh-grader in the Randolph County schools, the district has voted 5-2 not only to remove Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from its summer-reading curriculum but to ban the book altogether, removing it from the libraries. Gary Mason, one of the geniuses who voted for banning the book, protested: “I didn’t find any literary value.” Well, now that Gary Mason of Randolph County, N.C., has weighed in — case closed.
Invisible Man is generally presented as the Great African-American Novel, which it is, in the same sense that Moby-Dick is the Great Aquatic Mammal Novel, The Great Gatsby is the Great Long Island Novel, and Ulysses is the Great Pervy Irish-Catholic Novel. Times being what they are, we might expect American high school graduates to be familiar with maybe a dozen important works of American literature: The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, Leaves of Grass, Moby-Dick, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Our Town, etc. You do not draw up that list without including Invisible Man. Ellison’s masterpiece is not only or primarily the Great African-American Novel, but the great American novel of the second half of the 20th century, and a contender for the great American novel of the 20th century. Because its author was black, it is often considered alongside Beloved or The Color Purple, but its real peers are The Great Gatsby and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You simply cannot say that you are giving students an education in American letters and exclude it.
Invisible Man contains descriptions of moral depravity. So does Oedipus Rex. So does Hamlet. Salty language? Not a patch on Catullus, though the schoolmasters of Randolph County presumably are protected from that poet’s work by virtue of being unable to read it.
Like our friends in Texas attempting to substitute Genesis 1:20-22 for the last 150 years of biology research, the school board in Randolph County is committing a gross act of academic vandalism. Parents and taxpayers should demand that this decision is reversed. We have raised enough generations of cultural illiterates — and plain illiterates — as it is, enough that they’re serving on school boards.