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“Beloved” Bill Threatens Beloved Books

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The Beloved Bill would put limits on the book students can read in high school

The Beloved Bill would put limits on the book students can read in high school

Bergen Romness

Bergen Romness

The Beloved Bill would put limits on the book students can read in high school

Rosie Eldridge and Gigi Richardson, Sentry Staff Reporters

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Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, an American classic, details the horrors of slavery through its use of a realistic narrative. It tells the story of a slave who killed her young daughter in order to save her from the institution of slavery. Though this is the premise of the novel, Beloved also contains examples of profanity, racial slurs, violence and sexually explicit material that do not take away from the story’s main focus, but add to its realism. Morrison’s novel fleshes out the experience for her readers to reveal truths about the real world.

After outcries against seemingly “inappropriate” material in the novel, some parents of high school students in Virginia have voiced their concerns to the Board of Education. The result was the creation of House Bill 516, or more commonly referred to as the Beloved Bill. This bill requires teachers to send home a list of novels that are a part of the curriculum and labeled as “sexually explicit”. Parents may excuse their children from reading these books in exchange for a supplemental assignment. The bill was proposed last year in the Virginia General Assembly but was ultimately vetoed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe’s reasoning behind this decision against the bill was that the book could be labeled as “sexually explicit” based solely upon a single scene rather than the overall plot of the book. Secondly, McAuliffe believes that the decision about which books are taught in schools should be determined by the Board of Education. Although the bill was vetoed last year, the final decision sparked controversy among some parents; so the proposal of the bill has resurfaced. A vote will take place at a public board meeting on January 26 at the Monroe Building’s Jefferson Conference Room, in Richmond, beginning at 9 a.m.

Although parent involvement in their child’s academic career is important, the extreme measure of censorship proposed by this bill is a threat to educationally valuable reading materials. Books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird and Beloved would be labeled as “sexually explicit” under this bill. When most people think of these iconic and groundbreaking novels, they remember how influential and pivotal they were in the course of American history, not the few moments of sexual content. This is because they are all classics, and it is not a coincidence that they contain “questionable” teaching material. It also is not a coincidence that these novels are highly awarded (Beloved and To Kill a Mockingbird being the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction recipients) and, still to this day, bestsellers (200,000 copies of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are sold each year after coming out more than 100 years ago.) These books are being taught in the school system and have been taught for many years because of their literary value and daring perspectives. Unique styles of syntax, use of diction and persona are developed and explored throughout their pages, and, as a result, the students who read them gain knowledge about different styles of writing that are crucial in enhancing language arts skills. To reduce these masterpieces to a minor part of their story is taking away the value that far exceeds the discomfort felt by the reader.

High school is a time in life when teenagers are more independent than ever before. It is a chance for them to explore the messages that are revealed in books. The progression of students’ reading skills correlate with increasingly challenging subject matter. As students prepare for times in their life when they will not always be accompanied by an adult, they should not be shielded from material that they might be exposed to in the real world, even though it may be hard to digest. Shielding our youth from the harsh reality of the world will not help to make future generations stronger, but rather, it will cause them to be unaware of the world around them. The different viewpoints displayed in these novels enrich our understanding of the past and other people’s lives, constantly expanding our historical, cultural and global perspective. Life is not censored; exposure to its many nuances is included in the reading material provided, and should stay that way. As a society, we cannot withhold essential information and learning opportunities from students due to content that may be considered sensitive. If the public school system really strives to prepare students for a next level education, they need to start giving students their own responsibility and accountability while they are still a part of the school system.

Exposure to sexual subject matter will allow teenagers to more openly discuss the problems that accompany such sensitive topics. Beloved specifically highlights rape culture. Reading about this culture in a credible, respected novel allows readers to become more comfortable with the discussion of the culture, for sexual assault is an apparent issue in our society today. Being aware of its presence will allow our society to fight against it in present times. Injustices and continuing struggles are represented in these materials that are important to not only our history, but in how we approach and solve these issues today; therefore, the removal of their contribution/voice would stifle a necessary conversation.

The Beloved Bill could ultimately result in the exclusion of novels in school systems; immediate actions that the bill requires will also have negative effects. The decision regarding the material in the books is to be controlled by the state Board of Education, for it is their job to make such decisions. These board members are highly educated, qualified professionals who have the ability to choose reading material that is suitable for students, taking into account their reading levels, maturity and educational needs. The bill also infringes on the state constitutional power given to the Board of Education to make decisions as such. Therefore, the decisions made by the board regarding reading material should not only be accepted, but respected. Implementing this bill will make it more time consuming and labor intensive for teachers who must provide alternate assignments for those potential students who opt out of reading these explicit books. Those who oppose this bill should be sure to keep in mind that “the board is sensitive to anything they feel is an additional burden on teachers,” as Assistant State Superintendent Cynthia Cave said. In order for the teacher to stop a parent from restricting the books, the teachers would have to provide reasons as to how the book can be seen as a worthwhile read that is beneficial for their students’ education. In a case where a few students may choose to participate in replacement courses, they are missing out on the larger discussion with their peers on their interpretations of the texts. Simply reading the books without discussion is not receiving the full potential they have to offer. Parents of children should not be able to take away learning experiences from other students who will gain valuable knowledge from reading these books and having conversations about the themes presented.

Considering these arguments, House Bill 516 should not be passed. The intent of the bill is to protect students from reading “sexually explicit” content, but in reality this possible restriction would lead to the censorship of American classics that are important to our history and culture. While some parents think that they are protecting their children, they actually are limiting the expansion of their child’s education and perspective. The bill impedes high school students’ progress towards becoming independent adults who can formulate their own opinions. Our society’s youth will benefit from being exposed to experiences that they will most likely encounter later in life.

An important issue stressed by this bill is censorship. This opinion is not the only one and to prevent the inevitable censorship that could result from this bill, it is essential to have an open conversation with multiple perspectives about what this bill truly means and its effects, whether they be positive or negative. If you would like to be a part of this discussion, email your thoughts and rationale to the Board of Education at [email protected] to help reach a beneficial outcome for today’s students, the future of tomorrow.

 

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“Beloved” Bill Threatens Beloved Books