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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12/20/13  10:43 am
Commenter: Colleen Hirn, Colonial Heights High School English Teacher

Ignorance is not least in the 21st century.

I do not, in any way, agree with this notion proposed by what is likely an overly protective older population. As a young teacher--not much older than my students--I truly understand what it's like to be a young person in the 21st century. Now, more than ever, students are faced with destruction, chaos, war, and inappropriate material. The only way one can truly strive in this environment is to know what exists outside the doors of the school and be taught how to stand against it.

While I absolutely agree parents should play a large roll in this, teachers are like second parents to children, and, therefore, should take part in teaching these life lessons, as well. Teachers don't just teach subject matter. We teach life. I chose to teach English for that reason, and that reason alone. I don't love grammar, reading, and writing as much as I love being able to open my students' eyes to the world around them, without ever having to step foot outside of the my classroom. If anything, using literature to expose students to the realities of the world is the safest route. If students are protected from the realities of the world, their chances for falling into the wrong crowds and doing the wrong things are much higher once they are on their own. It's the whole idea of the "preacher's daughter," who in our society is often seen as (and it's usually true) the girl who rebels against the overprotective parents and ends up facing destruction due to her lack of knowledge of the real word outside of her parents' bubble. Also, children resist parental advice--even if it is good advice. In the classroom, students are more willing to listen to other peers and their teachers, making the classroom the perfect place to discuss such things.

While I don't currently teach any literature that I, with my conservative views, feel is sensitive, I do teach an entire unit on Banned Books, media and censorship, and the First Amendment. When I teach this unit, students become angry. Not with me, but with the people who tell them that they arne't mature enough and aren't trusted to be able to handle such material. You may be able to prevent me from teaching sensitive literature, but I will always continue to teach this unit so that my students know that it's not me that doubts them, it's you. By imposing bans on what children can read in school, you fill them with doubt, you squash their confidence, you kill their sense of agency as young adults, and you enrage them when they find out the truth about censorship.

In addition, every school has a procedure in place for parents who wish for their children to not be exposed to a certain work of literature. Parents still have rights and can still protect their children. However, it is not right for overprotective parents to place their bubble around all students--those who are not their children. That's what this provision will do. It will impose the beliefs of a few on all, which is not how our country is run.

I have also had experiences teaching sensitive material during my student teaching. I taught "The Things They Carried," a frequently banned books, to high school seniors. The book is filled with coarse language, and when I showed my students trust with the material, there were no giggles or whispers when we read the novel. They handled the novel with maturity. From this novel, I had my students write letters to deployed soldiers, telling the soldier what he or she carried. The students created beautiful metaphors and the letters were so moving that some brought me to tears while reading them. That is what it means to allow students to read sensitive material. It allows them to feel things, to share things, to access areas of their minds and hearts that they didn't know exists. It's a beautiful thing when a student goes through that process, and quite frankly, Great Expectations just doesn't have that result.

You may keep me from teaching "sensitive" materials--which is totally subjective--but I will continue to teach my students about what rights they have as a reader, and about the people that tell them they can't.

CommentID: 29745