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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12/16/13  11:42 pm
Commenter: Jennifer Horne, Charlottesville High School

"Controversy" in the 21st Century

Thank you for allowing me to share my opinions on this proposal.  I first must say that I agree with many of the already posted comments - that the term "controversial material" in and of itself is a slippery slope into a subjective clawing away of quality education.  The vast and various nature of lessons that could be deemed "controversial" is reason enough to dispose of this idea.

I would also like to present a 180 degree turn from the proposed amendment -  I would like to see an increase  in the controversial material presented in our public schools.  In today's society, the ease with which a child may gain access to the "controversial" - be it reprehensible language, sexuality, violence, attempts at religious indoctrination, manipulation, confabulation - is  undeniable.  As the parent of a 14 and 10 year old, I am constantly amazed by all that they "know".  Though usually it is a positive awe, there have been times that I've stuttered out a, "Where in the world did you hear / see that?!"  The bus.  A slumber party.  Youtube.  Google.  The hallway.  The bathroom.  TV.  The public in which our public schools are embedded is not quiet.  It is not slow.  It is not discerning or careful or gentle.  Yes, I would like to be the one with whom my own kids talk to about the "controversial" that they encounter; however, as I cannot be ever-present in their lives, I like to think that the schools, in which they spend so much time, are equipped to positively respond to their quesions and concerns.  When schools actually introduce kids to what might be deemed controversial, they are inviting discussion and dispelling fear.  For a school to expose a child to Hitler, or Shakespeare, (yes, most of his plays are quite "controversial"), or Freud, or racism, sexism, religion - is not an act of persuasion or exoneration.  It is the simple act of having a discussion.  Of answering and asking questions.  Of sating curiosity.  Of initiating understanding.  Isn't that what we are here to do?  Isn't that education?  

I just finished reading Of Mice and Men with my 9th graders.  We had a discussion about how this was the 2nd most banned book in the US.  One of my students said that if he had picked this book up on his own,  he would have thought that Steinbeck was a racist who liked to cuss a lot.  He said that reading and discussing the book in class made him understand  the book, and Steinbeck's message in a way he wouldn't have going it alone.  He then said that it was, "probably, like, the best book I ever read, ever." 

I realize that the proposed amendment is not overtly about "banning" books and disallowing specific lessons; however,  its message is clearly about restriction and restraint.  As both a teacher and a parent in the 21st Century, I feel that this is a backward move for our Virginia educational system.


Thank you for your consideration.

CommentID: 29636