The JFK Book Trials

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

On February 4th and 5th, students of the eleventh grade AP English Language course presented the first annual JFK Book Trials, organized by Mrs. Sapir and Mrs. Rochford. Students put Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye on trial in order to determine whether or not the novel is appropriate for the english language syllabus in our school district. With approximately a month to prepare, the students were divided into law firms and assigned a side: pro-banning or anti-banning.

The novel follows a young black girl who grew up in Ohio during the years following the Great Depression. She faces intense pressure from the ideal beauty standards that stem from white physiognomy. The book is critiqued on its extremely graphic scenes which thoroughly depict themes such as rape, incest, alcoholism, racism, verbal, and physical abuse. The scene that gets the most criticism, however, is during the incident where the main character, Pecola Breedlove, is raped by her father, Cholly Breedlove. For this reason, this book has been banned in several school districts across the country.  Its explicit scenes, along with its derogatory terms used throughout the novel is considered controversial, thus, providing the perfect opportunity for students of Kennedy High School to either support the removal of the book or neglect the obscenity and argue for its persistence in the curriculum.

In addition, students were also assigned a role in their presentation of the case that would follow. Each student in the group was given two weeks to devise a script together, as a team before proceeding. The positions included the opening statement, evidence, crossfire, and closing statement. The opening statement introduced the issue and clarified the position the firm was defending. The evidence was the bulk of the case; all the intensive research that was spent went here and was presented to the audience and judges. The crossfire was the hardest, yet the most interesting role of all. This was mainly due to the fact that it was an unscripted discussion between two students on opposing counsels. The crossfire person was to defend his or her side while refuting and debating with his or her opponent. Finally, the closing statement reinforced the ideas presented in the case and left a lasting impression on the judges who would be determining the winner of each case.

Judges consisted of both parents and teachers. Of course, to avoid any bias opinions as much as possible, parents were not assigned his or her own child’s case. Each judge was given a form with categories consisting of clarity and validity of the argument, appropriateness of the evidence, familiarity with the text, rebuttals, articulation, and demeanor. Each aspect was graded on a scale from one to three, three being highly effective and one being developing. Furthermore, given that the pro-banning side was obviously the harder side to defend, it was expected that not many pro-banning law firms would surpass the anti-banning law firms. That being said, it was not surprising when only two of the twenty cases ended in the pro-banning law firm acquiring more points than the anti-banning group.

Ultimately, this project provided insight on the process of choosing a book for a curriculum, while also allowing for a much-needed break from the confinements of a regular school day.