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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1/15/14  5:13 pm
Commenter: Michael Sullivan

Reject this amendment, version two.

I decided, after submitting my prior comment, that I wanted to say a few things differently.  What follows is my final statement on the matter:

I graduated from Fairfax County Public Schools. So did my wife. My daughter will attend FCPS, when she is old enough. The thing that sets FCPS apart - that makes a public education in this county the equivalent of the best private school education available in most of the rest of the nation - is its commitment to critical thinking and synthesis. Real learning comes when a mind takes in different views, differing realities, and unfamiliar or uncomfortable information, and reacts to that new information This measure will chill educators' ability to present that kind of material and, by extension, to provide the type of learning experience for which FCPS justly has been lauded.

If a parent does not want their child exposed to 'controversial' topics - whatever that means - that parent is free to homeschool their child, or enroll their child in an institution - say, a private religious school - that has as its mission the promulgation of the particular worldview that parent wishes to instill in their child. The express purpose of public education is to produce well-rounded, educated citizens. It is not to provide the education an individual parent might prefer, but to provide the education - the breadth and depth of knowledge and exposure - that best enables a child to be a well-rounded, critically-thinking, broadly-knowledgeable citizen.

What is controversial? Is homosexuality controversial? Homosexuals exist, no matter what a parent thinks of that reality, and children will encounter people of differing sexual orientations as they grow up and enter the collegiate or the working world. Refusing to, say, present material dealing with gay characters or relationships or to acknowledge that gay people exist - especially ludicrous, as the last two years have seen a steady stream of major news stories regarding the spread of legalized same-sex marriage, including two seminal, although not definitive, Supreme Court cases - is patently silly. 

What about a subject which certainly is controversial: abortion? Abortion is legal, no matter what a parent thinks of it, and the opposition to it is also very real. Pretending one or both sides of that very current and present debate does or do not exist, simply because it makes Parent X uncomfortable to think of their child being exposed to that material, does not serve the mission of public education. Ignorance of the existence of a thing does not nullify that existence - it merely renders the ignorant less able to function when confronted with that thing. The world exists as it exists, whether parents like it or not. Shielding children from the concept that there are things about which people fundamentally disagree - that controversy exists - does violence to their ability to think. 

Promotion of ignorance regarding 'controversial' topics - the very topics whose resolution, almost certainly, will rely on these young minds - is exactly antithetical to the purpose of a public school system. FCPS should prepare students to think critically about difficult and thorny issues, not simply pretend there are not thorns and leave the children to suss things out on their own. Reject this amendment.

CommentID: 30805