Agencies | Governor
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 Ends 1/15/2014
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1/13/14  6:58 pm
Commenter: Derek Kannemeyer, teacher

Reject: what is the schools' core task? how can we help it to be done well?

It is the educator's task to challenge students to engage in meaningful and considered ways with the world in which they live. And to guide them through such engagement. Most of the content of most high school classes may not be controversial (it's a vague word, though, and who decides?) but some of it is; should be; must be. If merely controversial material is excluded from classroom examination and discussion, how serious can the education possibly be? When will our students--people we are supposed to be training to think, and to defend their reasoned arguments--ever be forced to engage with such subjects in a considered way? With the hard questions of the very world they are entering?

I would ask those who consider themselves better arbiters of what is appropriate educationally than the teacher, and the teacher's colleagues and superiors, to do two things. One, that they defend their suppression of a particular proposed text. Say, because of its salaciousness. (Another vague word. Are we talking about books that ask hard and complex questions about sexuality, as a core human concern, or are we talking about titillation à la Shades of Grey?) Two, if our educators are not to be trusted to teach about the difficult questions of the world we live in in an appropriate fashion, that the parents promise to do so themselves. To take on the tough issues with their own kids, honestly, sensitively, and thoughfully. Oh, and then to let the rest of us know what texts they found that are "better" (more comprehensive, complex, honest, sensitive, thoughtful) than the ones they have desired to censor. 

The part of the proposal which asks that parents be "informed" strikes me as comparatively harmless. I may not trust all parents quite as much as I trust most teachers and the systems under which they operate, but I do believe in checks and balances, and in openness. If it is only a question of informing, then sure, why not? If a simple raising of questions on the parents' part develops into a genuine discussion of the issues, that also is a very good thing. And fine, when it gets right down to it, the parents can be the ultimate arbiters, and withdraw their children from class, or from school, if the educators' approaches are still deemed offensive, after all the questions have been raised and discussed. But routinely? As a kind of "morals and values" micromanagement? Who can that possibly be good for? 

Parents who wish for a licence routinely to substitute their judgment for that of the educators, may, and should, investigate home-schooling. To cede the balance of power to them within the public school system is to make that system unworkable.  Question, yes. Exclude your particular child, if al else fails, fine. (Might the transcript make a note of what has been shunned, to inform the universities and the employers equally?) But this proposal is on the way to allowing someone other than the educators to choose the syllabus and dictate policy. Which is a blueprint for a system of substandard--and gutless--education.

CommentID: 30277