Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
Guidance Document Change: The guidance document "Model Policies Concerning Instructional Materials with Sexually Explicit Content" was developed in conjunction with stakeholders in order to comply with SB656 (2022).
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8/2/22  8:42 pm
Commenter: High School English Teacher

Oppose SB656

This will be my 20th year as a high school English teacher.  When I started teaching, I never would have imagined that two decades on, my students would find themselves so degraded -- so downgraded -- as intellects, as critical thinkers, as decision makers. 

For the past two years, I have taught Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing".  It is an important book, and it has elicited incredible conversations.  In their end of the year critiques, most students rate it as their favorite unit of the year, the others - their second favorite.  Under this new regulation, whole class conversations about difficult issues in the novel, such as the rape of enslaved women, would not be possible.  There would be students who would not get the opportunity to explore this amazing work and others like it, (Morrison, Hosseini, Shakespeare) due to adult lack of faith in their ability to understand and contextualize sex as a part of the human story. 

I do not see the same outcry over human violence.  Why is that?  If our teenagers can contextualize war crimes, and if we are not striving to keep them "innocent" of the violent horrors of history, why can they not be expected to think critically about sex? 

In a school setting, any reference to sex in literature is but one part of a large and important narrative.  I believe that every educator would agree that puerile, explicit sexual material that exists for no other purpose than shock value has no place in schools.  I have never heard of such material being taught.    That said, if a chapter from a book like "Homegoing" is taken out of context, it loses its place in the larger narrative.  Without reading the entire book, parents cannot possibly understand its relevance.  It seems like, with this bill, such dangerous excerpting will become the norm.  This is disingenuous, and is an insult to the learning process.  

Finally, in school, critical thinking and discussion are happening.  To think that any teenager in 21st Century, online America is "innocent" is unrealistic.  When our kids find material online, they are usually not being guided to think about it critically.  This is a far, far greater danger than group discussions, guided by an adult, in the safety of a classroom.  

Please do not pass this bill.  It is a danger.  It will hamper the teaching of genuinely important literature.  Most importantly, it is a clear abdication of our investment into nurturing student critical thought.

CommentID: 124661