Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
Regulations Governing Local School Boards and School Divisions [8 VAC 20 ‑ 720]
Action Amendments Regarding Use of Controversial or Sensitive Instructional Materials
Comment Period Ended on 1/15/2014
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12/16/13  2:40 pm
Commenter: William Brazier, Social Science Supervisor, Loudoun CPS, President, VCSSSCE

Education and "Controversial" Material

Why would anyone want to suppress "controversial" or "sensitive" material? Maybe there are some good reasons, but I can't think of any that stand up to reason. First of all, there is the difficulty determining what "controversial" or "sensitive" mean. Teachers used to be "criminals" if they asked their students to read Darwin's Origin of Species. Second, if we want our students to learn, to truly learn, they must have their ideas and opinions challenged, and challenge comes from "controversial" material. Third, to those who would object to "controversial" material being examined in the classroom, I have a question: What are you trying to do? Are you trying to prevent your child from ever considering this material? Or, are you trying to wait for an "appropriate" time?

If the answer to this third question is yes, then I understand. Still, is the appropriate response to "controversial" material to suppress it? Teachers should always strive to publish a syllabus or book list so that parents do know what will be read or used in class, but the reasons this should be published is so that parents can be prepared to work with their children and their child's teacher in processing anything "controversial"--not so that they can "opt out" of the learning experience. The world is out there, and if we don't make school a part of it, then school will be irrelevant.

Sometimes a new article comes out, or a teacher discovers a new great resource, and does not have time to get a notice out about an addendum to the class materials. In this case, teachers really need to know their students well and work with the material with sensitivity, and even alert parents as soon as possible. And having said this, we must realize that teachers have to choose materials that actually help students to master the learning objectives identified by the curriculum.

All of this is to say that a new regulation aimed at suppressing "controversial" material is in some ways understandable, but in practice wrong-headed. Local educational leaders, at the county, city, and school levels need to make sure whatever teachers use in class actually has kids learning our curriculum objectives. If the book students read or the video clip they watch is "controversial," then that is just a magnified learning opportunity--as long as teachers are aiming at the curriculum targets with its use, know their students well, and work in tandem with parents in sensitive fashion. No new regulation will make this happen. Consistent respectful discourse and learning by all parties--students, teachers, parents, politicians--will.

CommentID: 29626