I am writing about SB 656, which allows parents and families to challenge teachers' and librarians' literature selections based on sexually explicit content. I am a current high school English teacher in Virginia, and what I can tell you about what I teach is that I teach students about complicated ideas, real people, and real situations. This allows students, who are young adults with very real perceptions of the world, to strengthen their connections to that understanding with texts from authentic voices. These voices are queer, feminine, masculine, nonbinary, from people of color and/or marginalized voices. Many of my students are from some, several, or most of these identities that I speak of. In the case of students who are not, it behooves them to learn about others' experiences without diminishing their own. Many of my students are students of color, and I receive positive feedback from them and from families based on what I assign. I use content to provide "windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors", a concept from educator Dr. Rudine Bishop in 1990, in which students are able to see themselves or people they may not have seen before in texts. I also select these texts for their promotion of critical thinking, which encourages my students to be active participants in my classroom when they grapple with difficult questions or ideas. This bill could allow families to take one section of what a text offers out of context or out of proportion with the rest of it and rob my students of a great opportunity to interact with real, yet sometimes difficult, ideas or topics. I don't like the idea that my professional expertise can be usurped by someone who, while possibly well-intentioned, doesn't understand the reasoning behind my choices and how these choices can benefit all students. When texts or topics are censored for students, I can no longer authentically teach. I can no longer have valuable discussions of identity, perceptions of identity, and struggle in our society. I can no longer help students grapple with tough ideas or the reality of people if they are not aware of real identities, like those of different sexual orientations, races, or lived experiences.
This is not a matter of presenting foul content to children for the sake of doing so: it is a matter of growing an up and coming citizenship to feel validated in their own experiences, or to feel comfortable in learning about others. Our world is not devoid of different people, as much as some may think so. I believe the classroom is the safest way to learn about this and to wrestle with these topics. For these reasons, and many others, I am firmly against this bill. Please allow for free speech and discussion to be promoted in our Commonwealth's classrooms.