Two years ago a Virginia parent challenged the use of Toni Morrison’s Beloved in her son’s class but the school chose to retain the text. The parent took her concerns to the State Board of Education, asking that school regulations include a plan to address “the use of sensitive or controversial instructional materials in the classroom.” The Board assessed public opinion through a virtual town hall, and NCTE joined its affiliate the Virginia Association of Teachers of English (VATE) in speaking against the proposed regulation. The State Board took no action.
During this year’s Virginia legislative session, the parent’s request has become proposed legislation focused on “sexually explicit” materials, HB516.
VATE once again is speaking out, taking an Official Position on House Bill 516 and advocating against the legislation by contacting legislators to oppose the bill.
NCTE member and VATE Executive Secretary, Chuck Miller’s op-ed on the bill was printed in the Daily Progress. He noted, as the VATE position does,
“Dialogue between teachers and parents regarding course content and curriculum is a good thing and should be encouraged. Conversations arising from questions about a text and its use in the classroom could be meaningful opportunities to strengthen the educational partnership between parents, teachers, and students.
However, the discourse in such conversations is diminished if the parent or student is responding to a label such as “sexually explicit,” rather than to a passage in context….
The study of both literary and nonfiction texts is a process through which students learn to consider the author’s craft, diverse perspectives, and a work as a whole rather than separate pieces. A work of literature is much more than the sum of its parts.
Judging a text based on isolated content limits the scope of reading experiences available to students and compromises the integrity of the text. It’s kind of like judging a painting by one brush stroke or a tapestry by a single thread.”
Students need the right to read. NCTE respects
“the right of individuals to be selective in their own reading. But for the same reason, we oppose efforts of individuals or groups to limit the freedom of choice of others or to impose their own standards or tastes upon the community at large.”
“Literature is more than the sum of its parts.” The Council opposes the “red-flagging” of texts and certainly opposes HB516.