|Action||Amendments Regarding Use of Controversial or Sensitive Instructional Materials|
|Comment Period||Ends 1/15/2014|
To have English teachers list every book that they plan to teach and indicate whether it might be "sensitive" seems to contradict every tenet vital to public education. I can imagine no better place to expose readers to "sensitive" ideas than in the pages of a book, where they can witness abuse, horror, injustice, and sin from a relatively safe distance. Having read about such issues, we might be better equipped to value kindness and compassion within our society. People are "sensitive" to the Holocaust, yet is vital that students have the opportunity to read a book like Elie Wiesel's NIGHT and learn about this historic genocide from a survivor. Some individuals might deem Mark Twain's HUCKLEBERRY FINN "sensitive;" however to label such a seminal work of American literature as sensitive would be ignorant, for it assumes that young people are incapable of having intelligent and civil conversation about race. Furthermore, to denote such a novel as sensitive indicates a total ignorance of Twain's very thesis. So often, adults impose their own insecurities and prejudices upon young people rather than giving them credit for their own discernment and curiosity.
In requiring English teachers to list these "sensitive" materials, we relieve parents of the responsibilty of daily discussion with their children about what they are reading and learning. The teacher assumes a parental responsibility yet again. As a parent of two college graduates who attended Virginia public schools, I dialogued every day of their pre-university years about what they were reading and thinking. They often read books that contained words (like "shut up") which were unacceptable in our household, and even as young as five, they understood that book characters often used words which we did not. Those were teachable moments about our family values. When they were introduced to characters who used profanity or slurs, they did not begin to use those words or phrases. As with 99% of young people, they could distinguish the difference between our home and expectations compared to those of fictional characters.
To try to define "sensitive" is a ludicrous endeavor when referring to English classroom novels. I am constantly amazed at the ideas which others find "sensitive." For some, fairytales like Cinderella are sensitive because they contain magic. For others, curse words in Walter Dean Myers' Fallen Angels is "sensitive," even though the young 18-year-old soldiers were waging a war in Vietnam. Are we to pretend that the war in Southeast Asia was a sanitized and civil altercation, only teaching books which show war as a glorious and heroic proposition? I believe young people would find such adult need to filter their world demeaning.
Parents have every right to raise, control or protect their children as they see fit. Given that, it is important not to let a "sensitive" few do that for my children as well. As a parent, I wanted my children to think, to tackle sensitive and controversial issues, and to know that everyone in the world is not nearly as fortunate as they are. I believe that Jefferson envisioned public education as a place where we wanted teachers to broach "sensitive" topics and produce creative, critical thinkers. I strongly believe that such "labeling" of books is akin to book burning and banning. Every book worth teaching should be filled with "sensitive" content which challenges our presumptions and complacency. Those who need books labeled can send their children to schools which have a much narrower version of education than the one which Mr. Jefferson envisioned for Virginia. After all, I am sure that the Declaration of Independence was quite the "sensitive" reading in his day.