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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1/14/14  6:37 pm
Commenter: Parent of four public school students

"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none." - William Shakespeare

I write as the father of four Virginia public school children two of which are currently in AP/Honors English classes and one who, because of his passing scores on the English AP exams, tested out of all required English classes at a major public university. I suspect that my other children will do the same. Clearly, with the guidance of their parents and the help of their public school teachers my children have and continue to receive an outstanding public education.

I am also 100% in support of this common sense proposed regulation and applaud the BOE for doing what is right and not what is popular among the self identified “overburdened” “professional educators” who have flooded this website with comments at the behest of their “professional associations.”

The BOE’s Vision and Mission are clearly stated below:

The vision of the Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction, in cooperation with their partners, is to create an excellent statewide system of public education that derives strength from our diversity and that ensures equality of opportunity for each student in a safe and healthy learning environment that prepares all students to be capable, responsible, and self-reliant citizens in the global society.

The mission of the Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction, in cooperation with their partners, is to develop policies and provide leadership that improve student achievement and prepare students to succeed in postsecondary education and the workplace.

You will note that in two short paragraphs that outline the responsibilities of the BOE, “students” are specifically mentioned four times and teachers are never mentioned. So, for those “professional educators” who have commented, I know you find this hard to believe, but it’s not about you. It is about what is best for the students.

To be clear, neither the BOE nor the proponents of these proposed regulations are seeking (or have ever sought) to “ban” any books - zero. The oldest refuge for the opponents of these common sense regulations is to cry “censorship”, “book banning” and “academic freedom” while conjuring up images of piles of burning books. The opponents have either not read the proposed regulation or are intellectually dishonest – neither of which is a good place for a “professional educator.”

Mr. Wright, Goochland County School Board, advocates for the VDOE to honor the Constitution.  I agree. With guidance from the BOE, counties should determine what is sensitive and mature and require teachers to clearly identify which books do in fact contain sensitive material.  Unfortunately, this is not happening. 

While it may be difficult to determine where the conversation should end when it comes to sensitive material, “professional educators” and parents should come together and agree that books containing graphic themes of bestiality, incest, pedophilia and gang rape is a good place to begin.  Can we at least establish a graphic, overly sexualized floor below which we will not go? Parents are rightfully concerned about the extremely graphic images in assigned books like BelovedThe Bluest Eye and others listed in the public comments. No one is raising The Great GatsbyRomeo and JulietTo Kill A Mockingbird, or Huck Finn except the opponents who seek to divert attention from the real issue.

If you take the time to read through the shrill responses of the opponents, what they seem most opposed to is transparency and choice, two tenets of liberals and academia across America. They cry “academic freedom” but want parents to either butt out completely and “trust teachers” or they want to provide the minimum amount of information about the content of the books by simply listing books on the syllabus and telling parents “if you want to know what’s in the books do your own research.” They want the rights associated with academic freedom, just not the responsibilities. What they are not saying is that if they sent home a syllabus that said “Warning: some of the literature utilized during the academic year may contain mature and sensitive themes including but not limited to graphic images of bestiality, incest, pedophilia and gang rape”, the parents would rise up and reject the use of these materials. In the end, it is about control. The opponents believe there should be no standards and that the individual teacher is the sole arbiter of what your child reads. 

Further, the idea that it places too much of a burden on the teacher to write a short paragraph in the syllabus giving parents a heads up that their child may be exposed to these themes in certain literature utilized in the classroom is ridiculous. Many of these teachers utilize the same books year after year and some even for decades. Some even use the same syllabus year after year and simply change the date on the front page. It is too much for an English teacher (professional educator) to write a short paragraph describing the book and highlighting the presence of graphic content but they ask a student to write a multi-page paper on the same book and content? It is interesting to note that the vast majority of the comments on this site by self-identified teachers were written during school hours. I thought they were overburdened? How did they squeeze this in? In the time that it took them to read their “alert” from their teachers union, craft a response and then alert their fellow teachers, they could write a short paragraph about the content of the explicit books they are assigning and send it home to parents – the hypocrisy!

I also want to draw your attention to teachers from Tallwood HS that have taken time out of the school day to  comment in the negative.  In the ultimate irony, front and center on the Tallwood HS website is a notice to parents that they have the right to “opt out” their children from being exposed to military recruiters via the “Military Recruitment Opt-Out Letter” and attached form. Apparently, the Tallwood teachers just don’t want Virginia parents to have notice, alternatives or opt-out options when it comes to reading explicit assigned “literature” containing themes such as bestiality, gang-rape and pedophilia. After all, the most important thing “professional educators” at Tallwood can do is protect students from military recruiters. Liberal priorities on full display.

The opponents also object by stating that it is too difficult to determine what is mature or sensitive material and, moreover, the BOE is treading on a slippery slope from which the teachers will never be able to satisfy every point of view. In other words, effective implementation is impossible. How about if we agree that books with graphic depictions of men having sex with cows and goats, gang rape of a pregnant slave, and a situation where a man not only has sex with his daughter and impregnates her, but then gloats about this to his friend to the extent where his own friend begins fantasizing about having sex with his own daughter, are indeed sensitive and ought to require parental consent? Do the “professional educators” who claim we just need to “trust them” oppose this as well?

 Again, no one is seeking to “ban” books with those themes, the proposed regulation only requires teachers to provide sufficient notice (transparency) to parents and for those parents who do not want their children to read those books, discuss those themes, write papers on those themes and ultimately be tested on those themes, they can select another book and/or opt their child out. The rest of the class, along with the teacher (professional educator), are free to read as much salacious and explicit “literature” as they want or at least as much as they can sneak by the parents. The opponents would have you believe that by allowing such a regime it could create “chaos in the classroom.” After all, we can’t have multiple parents opting their children out of books. Of course that logic is twisted. If multiple parents request alternative books and/or opt their child out thus creating “classroom chaos” isn’t that a commentary on the judgment of the teacher, the department Chair, the Principal and ultimately the school administration for choosing the objectionable books? Of course it is and that is what they fear most – accountability for the content of the books that they choose to utilize.  

The following admonition appears on the College Board site:

Representative Authors: There is no recommended or required reading list for the AP English Literature and Composition course. The following authors are provided simply to suggest the range and quality of reading expected in the course. Teachers may select authors from the names below or may choose others of comparable quality and complexity.” The College Board then lists under the broad themes of Poetry, Drama, Fiction and Expository Prose the names of 172 authors that are suitable to choose from. Of course, it is likely that the recommended authors have produced multiple works.  The College Board even suggests that other authors, not listed, are acceptable as long as they maintain quality and complexity. 

The opponents of this regulation would have you believe that of the hundreds of authors listed (and not listed) by the College Board that it is in the child’s best academic interest to read books filled with graphic scenes of bestiality, pedophilia and gang rape –after all we should simply “trust the teachers.”  To be clear, none of this is required by the College Board. These books are chosen by the teacher, the department chair and the school administration. Teachers and department chairs who choose these books have created a situation that now requires parents to protest and the BOE to weigh in with common sense regulations requiring transparency and choice. The teachers who select these books now claim to be the victims of an overreaching Richmond bureaucracy and overwrought parents – the irony. 

Aren't teachers admitting guilt if they claim that identifying assigned books containing sexually explicit material will lead to censorship? Why would it lead to censorship if parents find these books perfectly acceptable? Are some teachers involved in a shell game of sorts...playing hide the bestiality?  If reading about these sexually explicit themes is so necessary to become a better citizen and question the world around them, then why hide behind these wonderful literary treasures?  Tout them far and wide like you are doing here in the public comment forum. Why can you promote your choices behind the veil of a public comment forum but not in front of the parents of your own students?  Be proud of your selection and inform your parents of the sexually explicit material on the syllabus, not by ducking the issue and simply listing assigned books.  Who knows?…One or two of the parents may actually agree with you.

BOE: Please stick to your guns and require the “overburdened professional educators” to provide transparency, choice and opt-out options for the students and parents in Virginia’s public schools.

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