I don’t envy teachers. Kids are the worst. Parents are the worst. On top of that teachers’ unions seem to be under perpetual attack. No, being a K-12 teacher looks like a rough gig, and I’m glad there are people out there who are more cut out for it than I am. It’s too bad, however, that we constantly treat them like the children they teach.
Late last week, the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would make it easier to prosecute teachers, librarians and school principals for materials that are “harmful to minors.” The move was in response to an incident involving a sex ed poster hung on a middle school classroom door.
Hmm… A kneejerk reaction to teaching preteens about sex? What could possibly go wrong?!
You may be thinking at this point, “What, exactly, is meant by ‘harmful to minors’?” The bill basically takes an “I know it when I see it” approach to figuring out if something is inappropriate for minors. It requires the imposition of “contemporary community standards.” Specifically, the bill defines “harmful to minors” to mean materials that:
(A) The average adult person applying contemporary community standards would find that the material or performance has a predominant tendency to appeal to a prurient interest in sex to minors;
(B) the average adult person applying contemporary community standards would find that the material or performance depicts or describes nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse in a manner that is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable for minors; and
(C) a reasonable person would find that the material or performance lacks serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic or political value for minors
Sounds a bit like pornography. I think we can all agree that teachers shouldn’t be showing kids pornography. That clearly crosses a line. However, opponents of this bill argue is far too sweeping and that it could ban great works of art, like Michelangelo’s David or “Romeo and Juliet.”
I’m not sure about that, but it is serious. Remember, this all came about because of a sex ed poster hung in a middle school. That poster didn’t have graphic images of naked bodies. It was merely a list of ways people can show sexual intimacy. According to the Wichita Eagle:
The poster was titled “How Do People Express Their Sexual Feelings?” and featured a list of 17 behaviors or sex acts, including cuddling, holding hands, massage, kissing, oral sex and anal sex. It was removed after a parent complained, and Shawnee Mission district officials later said in a letter to parents that the curriculum had been suspended “pending a detailed review of the material.”
I know people get all squiggly when we start talking about sex with kids, but think about it this way. I learned about oral sex when I was in middle school from Bill Clinton. This was before I was going on the Internet in a big way. Would you rather these kids get their information from potentially inaccurate sources, or would you rather they get their information from a trusted teacher? The idea that this type of thing could be banned because of nebulous “community standards” is frightening. It’s even more so when you think that the more sexually repressed the community, the more there needs to be a safe space to discuss these issues.
And we Kansans seriously need to talk about sex more. Specifically, we need to talk about safe sex more. In 2011, Kansas had the seventeenth highest teen birth rate in the country.
As potentially harmful as this bill is, it gets worse. You’ll notice that the bill prohibits material that depicts “sexual conduct.” This, too, has a definition. It means, among other things, “acts of…homosexuality.”
Whoa. Wait. Acts of homosexuality? What does that mean? Hand-holding? Hugging? Raising kids together? You only have to live in the world to know that gay couples are held to a different standard than hetero couples. Hand-holding might go unnoticed if it was between people of different genders, but become glaringly obvious when two men or two women do it. Will it suddenly be illegal for teachers to expose students to positive depictions of homosexual couples? I think the bill gives cover to people who want to erase gay people from public knowledge.
At the very least, this bill will cause teachers to self-censor because a teacher is guilty of a crime if they recklessly expose their students to this material. It doesn’t even have to be intentional. It’s only rational to want to avoid committing a crime, which in this case would likely lead to some kind of self-censorship. In education, this is basically the worst.
The people we have tasked with teaching our children have enough to deal with. Can we at least trust them with their job?
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