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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1/13/14  11:05 am
Commenter: James L. Owens, Current English 12 Teacher

Reject the policy on grounds that it be dealt with locally.

What is innappropriate material? Most "classics" deal with what someone at some point in history considered vulgar or immoral. Shakespeare's dramas are violent, sexual, and commonly deal with what many modern readers would consider unhealthy relationships. Does that mean that his work should be scrutinized and legitimized? Do these authors encourage immoral behaviors, or teach valuable lessons, despite a regrettable aspect of human nature. Teachers are charged with exposing students to new materials; that is our job. Ultimately, teachers will be responsible for validating what they teach, one more time, and will have to spend time on a witch hunt, rather than planning meaningful, relevant lessons. 

I strongly encourage parents to be involved in their children's education. Parents should know what their children are learning, and they should object to questionable material, but there is an appropriate way to handle individual cases, individually. Parents should be familiarizing themselves with the materials taught in public schools, rather than speculating on hypotheticals. Many comments in this forum support the proposed policy because of an opposition to sexually graphic materials. Is this a recurring problem that all of the parents commenting know about, and all of the teachers commenting don't? The county in which I teach has a policy. The policy was designed based on the observed needs of this community. Parents are able to object, at the beginning of the year, to materials selected by the teacher that are not in the prescribed textbook, literature and movies that were approved by the school board. Parents communicate their objections directly to the teacher, and the teacher works with that one student and his or her parents to exchange that text for another from the choices provided for that grade level. In ten years, I have never had an objection.

Should books have a rating? Most literature taught in most schools in the commonwealth is taught by grade level, thereby matching the content of the literature with the appropriate age. Are all students ready for maturity at the same time? No. Is all material appropriate for all students? No. Public education is about meeting the needs of a very broad, very diverse population. Making blanket policies that are based on individual cases has the potential to hold everyone back.

From my perspective, this is the foundation of censorship.

Who will decide what is taught, and, possibly more importantly, what literature is taught at what level? Until recently, educators were thought capable enough to make decisions concerning education.

CommentID: 30161