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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12/19/13  10:08 am
Commenter: Amanda Williams

Subjectivity and Personal Values Have No Place in Policy Regarding Literature

How one defines sensitive or sexually explicit is based in cultural, normative, and personal values.  Once, novels such as Madame Bovary and Moll Flanders where considered to be sexually explicit. Today, they great works of art, works revealing the human condition, without the label of sexually explicit.  Works such as Death and the Kings Horseman and Survival in Auschwitz address the most sensitive of topics: human nature and how it manifests itself.  Art and literature is in its very nature sensitive and explicit.  It speaks of the human condition.  It is not for educators or politicians to label something as explicit or sensitive.  It is for the reader to do. 

As an educator, I understand the need to shield students from obscene material and to communicate with parents and guardians the nature and application of a text that might challenge cultural, normative, and personal values.  However, listing all text available to students and categorizing them as sensitive or sexually explicit indicates to the community of educators, parents and students that one set of values is paramount.  It establishes a hierarchy of values: educator first, then student, then parent.  This is not the model of education that meets the needs of all students, or even most students.  Teachers encourage students to read and to explore the world through literature.  It is not the role of the teacher to categorize that world for her students. 

Categorizing literature as sensitive and sexually explicit based on the cultural, normative, and personal values of one person or organization is the first step to the slippery slope about which Ray Bradbury warns us, about which Voltaire cautions us, about which George Orwell advises us.  We must heed their words.  We must not restrict free thought by use of labels or any other means.  We must not allow the values of one culture or demographic to dictate the literacy of others.  

CommentID: 29722