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
Previous Comment     Next Comment     Back to List of Comments
1/2/14  2:34 pm
Commenter: Julia Fuller, Tucker High School, HCPS

Reject This Amendment!

Though many educators, students, and parents on this forum have already eloquently expressed my sentiments regarding the proposed legislature, I would like to add my voice to those opposing the passage of this unnecessary and insulting amendment. 

Critical thinking is a skill that we, as educators, are occasionally berated for failing to teach this generation of American children. In my classroom, I try to demand reflective consideration of everything we read. The point of assigning "sensitive and controversial" materials is exactly that--to encourage discussion, debate, and critical thinking from our students. Teachers do not select and assign novels based on "shock value" or from the desire to rile up parents or students, but rather from the desire to provoke thought and inquiry from the young adults in our classrooms. 

It would probably be much easier for me to assign "easier" or less “controversial" novels. I don't enjoy reading about the graphic violence of the Holocaust, such as I do with my tenth grade students as we read Elie Wiesel's Night, or discussing the sexual assault of the main character in Cisneros's House on Mango Street, or for that matter, analyzing the brutal death of a baby in Steinbeck's The Pearl, or even broaching the sensitive topic of teenage suicide in Romeo and Juliet. But these discussions are worth having, and my classroom offers a safe and intelligent place to have those discussions. Eliminating sensitive and controversial materials would mean eliminating most literature. I might as well just put a blanket warning on my syllabus at the beginning of the year: "Caution--this course will require your student to engage with sensitive, controversial, and thoughtful materials. Thinking is encouraged."

When there are controversial scenes in particular novels, those scenes should be read in the context of the novel. Selective reading to find offense will always find that offense. Toni Morrison, for example, does not write to glorify sexual assault or to titillate her readers with “deviant behavior,” she writes about important gender and racial issues. Cherry-picking unsettling scenes from her novels, or the novels of other authors often targeted for banning and censorship, misses the point—great writing is supposed to unsettle us. Art should challenge us to challenge the world around us.

It is important for students to acknowledge and remember that human beings are capable of terrible acts like those perpetrated in the Holocaust. It is important for them to become responsible and conscientious citizens. It is important for them to recognize the prejudice, violence, and grief present in the world around them, and become prepared to deal with difficult situations. Literature provides a safe way for students to do all of that and more. All great literature is both sensitive AND controversial--that's the point. 

Every parent has the right (and duty) to contribute to their children’s education. But what they do not have the right to do is to dictate what other people’s children are taught. They do not even have the right to limit their children’s exposure to all ideas that do not strictly agree with their own. They do not have the right to keep their children from becoming educated about the world around them. They do not have the right to keep their children from becoming thoughtful, open-minded, and inquiring adults.

Teenagers have rights as well, and one of their most intrinsic rights is the right to learn. The public education that I am dedicated to providing for my students should be a democratic and fair one. I would be remiss as an educator if I did not incorporate literature into my curriculum that challenges my students to become critical thinkers, reflective readers, and socially responsible people who can appreciate and respond to the sensitive and controversial world we live in. 

CommentID: 29813