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Randolph County’s ban of Invisible Man may hurt students seeking AP college credits

News of last week’s vote by Randolph County School Board members to ban Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man [1] from its school libraries has circulated far [2] and wide [3].

Would school board members have taken this drastic step if they knew that the AP English Literature exam has featured passages from Invisible Man for 13 out of the last 15 years? It’s one of the most frequently referenced texts that require a free-response essay during that time—only surpassed by Great Expectations, according to the College Board.

Since 1955, the AP Program has enabled millions of students to take college-level courses and exams, and to earn college credit or placement while still in high school. More than 32 percent of U.S. public high school students in the class of 2012 took an AP Exam at some point in high school.

At a time when college costs are soaring, many prospective college students rely on AP courses and exams to gain college credit for college-level competencies gained while in high school at a much reduced cost.

Randolph County Schools’ Superintendent, Dr. Stephen Gainey, couldn’t be sure yet if the school board’s vote to remove the book from library shelves would also prohibit teachers from teaching the Invisible Man  in their AP English Lit classrooms. “There is an issue there,” Gainey said, but before addressing it, he wanted to wait to see how the school board votes when they convene Wednesday night to reconsider their move to ban the book from school libraries.

North Carolina Teacher of the Year, Karyn Dickerson, teaches high school English at Grimsley Senior High School in Greensboro. “Books that deal with difficult content are important,” said Dickerson. “With teacher-led discussions in the classroom, hopefully students can carefully process and learn about these issues and, in the future, bring about change to these social injustices.”

Access to books is made much easier today thanks to the Internet and hand-held devices like Kindles and Nooks. Banning a book may compel students to find a way to read it anyway. “Wouldn’t you want your child to read these books with a caring and knowledgeable teacher helping them understand the people and events they have not, and hopefully will not, ever experience?” said Dickerson.

Ellison’s Invisible Man deals with the African American narrator’s search for identity in the context of societal stereotypes and discrimination, along with many other themes. The book won the 1953 National Book Award for fiction, and Time magazine included it in its list of the 100 Best English Language Novels since 1923.