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  2:24 pm
Commenter: Brian Schwartz, VBCPS

A Lesson In Futility

The consideration of amendment 8 VAC 20-720 is, simply put, an affront to the trust in judgment granted to every teacher by the division and school that hired him or her. As an educator, trained in my field, the decision to alter instruction based on content that could be considered offensive is process that cannot and should not be reduced to sending home a letter to parents at the beginning of the school year. We teachers are not fooled by the ambiguous wording of the proposed amendment; this is an attempt to support the removal of all informed determinations in favor of supporting a reactionary and misinformed minority. If this amendment is passed, teachers will be forced to work under an amendment that is not only technically impossible to enforce, but one that is also crippling to the educational process as a whole.

From a physical standpoint, it would be impossible for me to list every single piece of objectionable material in every novel, novella, play, poem, article, essay, and short story read in a school year. In an increasingly budget-centric teaching universe, the resources that will be consumed meeting this required mandate, in terms of dollars and hours, would prove to be a tax too great for any teacher to bear. How many dollars will be wasted printing guides covering all of the potentially objectionable material in Hamlet? How many hours of planning time should a teacher be expected to waste making this guide? This is clearly a lesson in futility.

Even if this tax is expected to be paid at the beginning of the school year, how can we then be expected to do this every time a new material enters our unit? Most teachers operate flexibly, where units and lessons can change even a day or hour before class begins. Is it then fair to tax a teacher for differentiating instruction between classes and introducing new materials when the need for them appears organically throughout the school year? Clearly this isn’t.

This is overlooking the central problem with this amendment, which is the vagueness of its wording. Considering that English classes typically only study written works with a central conflict, and the nature of conflict typically involves behavior that one or more party considers to be offensive, how then can a teacher be expected to teach any work of significance if an uninformed minority is given the option to veto a work based on their own inflammatory word list? Allowing parents to cherry pick inflammatory key words from a list without any context regarding their use in the work is the exact behavior that this amendment would encourage. How many guardians would veto a work based on a subject they find offensive without reading into the greater context of the work? If this behavior is tolerable then parents should have to take a comprehension test on the work to show they understand its use fully in thematic context and still object to its presence.

This proposed amendment is a lazy solution to a problem that could be overcome with two steps. Step one: Parents, be involved with your student enough to know what they are reading in class, or consult the materials used list that most teachers provide at the beginning of the school year. Step two: Research any work you are questionable on. Step three: Email the teacher of the course if you have questions or concerns, as they will be accommodating to any request. It is that simple. 

CommentID: 29625