These days, one is surprised to hear any good news coming out of North Carolina, which has achieved national ignominy for its governor’s and legislature’s relentless attacks on public education and teachers.

Yet there is good news, as teacher Kay McSpadden explains, the Randolph County school board reversed its decision to remove Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” from its schools and libraries. The board banned it in response to a parent who complained, saying, “The narrator writes in the first person, emphasizing his individual experiences and his feelings about the events portrayed in his life. This novel is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers. You must respect all religions and point of views when it comes to the parents and what they feel is age appropriate for their young children to read without their knowledge.”

Educators who reviewed the book opposed banning it, but the board banned it. After this absurd decision made the board an object of national ridicule, it reversed its vote only two days later.

McSpadden explains why the book has become a classic and is appropriate for teenagers.

She writes:

“The first time I read “Invisible Man,” I, too, thought it was a hard read – a complex read – and I knew I needed to read it again to understand what I missed the first time through. A few years later when I wrote my master’s thesis, “Invisible Man” was the perfect book – so layered and complex that I could read it a dozen times and still find something new.

“That’s one reason I assign it every year to my Advanced Placement students. I hope it is a hard read – the kind that forces them to read with engaged intellects as well as with opened emotional sensibilities.

“It seems to be. My students like it – some even calling it the favorite novel we read all year. The nameless narrator’s quest to discover his identity is the same journey my students are on – making it a book that speaks to teenagers. A story that intentionally follows the mythical hero arc, it is both universal and particular, focusing on our shared humanity even as it speaks to the particular experience of being black in America.”

For anyone interested in learning more about the history of book banning and censorship of the language and imagery that appears on standardized tests, please read “The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn.”

A thought: does this episode not remind us how important fiction is? Doesn’t it remind us how literature compels us to reflect on our thoughts and feelings? Doesn’t it suggest that books become classics when we find we can return to them again and again to discover new things about the book and ourselves? These days, with the exaltation of “informational text” in the Common Core, it is good to be reminded that great literature has power that lasts a lifetime.

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