To say that a new bill in Arizona is draconian is to risk understatement. SB 1467 seeks to impose restrictions on the conduct of any teacher in a public school setting and not only in the classroom, but in their own homes. Under the law, those who teach at public schools would be prohibited from engaging in “speech or conduct that would violate the standards adopted by the Federal Communications Commission concerning obscenity, indecency and profanity if that speech or conduct were broadcast on television or radio.”
As written, SB 1467 is simply scary. As Stephen D. Foster, Jr., writes on Addicting Info, the bill in effect says that teachers “can’t do things that aren’t allowed on television.” Specifically, the FCC says that
It is a violation of federal law to air obscene programming at any time. It is also a violation of federal law to air indecent programming or profane language during certain hours.
Educators of students of all ages are included in SB 1467, from preschool, elementary, middle and high school teachers to those in vocational education programs. Professors at public community colleges or public universities would also be affected. For the first violation, an individual could be suspended for at least a week without compensation. A second violation would being a two-week suspension without compensation. A third violation would lead to the termination of an individual.
The sponsors of SB 1467 are five Republicans, Senator Al Melvin, Senator Andy Biggs, Senator Don Shooter, Senator Lori Klein and Senator Steve Smith. As Adam Peck on Think Progress points out, it was last summer that Klein “raised eyebrows when, during an interview with a reporter from the Arizona Republic, she took out a loaded handgun and pointed it at the reporter’s chest.”
Regulating Free Speech in the Classroom — and Beyond
Certainly the text of SB 1467 suggests that its authors have some concerns about free speech and, in particular, about imposing limits on it. Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights In Education notes that not only would the bill prohibit the teaching of sexuality “and other non-Victorian topics” but teachers — and university professors — could be penalized and even lose their jobs by teaching such classics as The Canterbury Tales, The Catcher in the Rye, Ulysses and “probably every work by an obscure English writer named William Shakespeare.” Forget about teaching film studies as you can be sure that “movies like The Godfather, The Graduate, Annie Hall, or for that matter, Pulp Fiction” would all be on the “don’t-show” list.
The last-named author uses “gadzooks” (“God’s hooks,” i.e., the nails on the cross on which Christ was crucified) and “zounds” (“God’s wounds”) in his plays — profane expressions in his time though not in ours. But if SB 1467′s sponsors feel Shakespeare should be regulated, who’s to stop them from reaching even further back than the late 16th – early 17th century, even past the last 14th century when The Canterbury Tales were written, to the ancient Greeks and Romans? Plenty of works in the classical canon are decidedly raunchy, such as some poems by the 1st century BCE Roman poet Catullus. Others are fulsomely scatological, including the Greek comic writer Aristophanes’ Birds and Lysistrata, in which the female characters go on a sex strike to end a war. Greek tragedy is full of “indecent acts” — incest (Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex of course and also Euripides’ Hippolytus), filicide (Euripides’ Iphigeneia in Aulis) and matricide (Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers). Somehow I don’t think the poet Sappho from the island of Lesbos, whose poetry is addressed to girls and woman — and whose poetry is a model for many Western poets — would pass the approval of the Arizona Senators.
If that’s not enough to sound appalling, Think Progress’s Peck underscores that SB 1467 would intrude on the private lives of teachers:
SB 1467 doesn’t just ban public speech or conduct, but all speech and conduct. That means public school teachers in Arizona will be forbidden from engaging in any FCC-regulated activities no matter where they are. That means no sex, no going to the bathroom, no cursing and no showering. Ever.
SB 1467 is not only a violation of free speech and of privacy. It is an attempt to deny students the opportunity to learn about their cultural heritage of literature and ideas.
Arizona has already imposed a ban on ethnic studies. Now it seems the state wants to ban the Western tradition, too.
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