Smut or Shakespeare: Kansas Senate Defines What’s Appropriate for the Classroom

If you’re a student (or know a student) in Kansas, major changes may be coming to your curriculum. The state’s Senate has recently passed a bill (SB56) removing legal protections for educators in schools for using curriculum methods that may be viewed as harmful to minors. However, the legislation did not remove the same protections for educators at colleges and universities.

kansas capitol

Seen by supporters as a way to protect minors from “offensive content,” the measure gained traction after a poster in a Johnson County middle school spurred some parents’ ire. The poster, displayed as part of sex-education curriculum, asked the question “How do people express their sexual feelings?” Answers to that question included intercourse and anal sex. None of the answers to the question were depicted in any way on the poster other than with words. Some parents were offended by the posters’ content, and it was removed by the school.

The tide then turned to other materials which some could consider inappropriate, culminating in the bill passing in the Kansas Senate. It will now go to the state’s House of Representatives. The bill would allow for teachers, principals and other educators to be charged with misdemeanors for disseminating and/or displaying materials determined to be harmful to minors.

Nathan Whitman, educator from Burrton High School in Kansas, helped clear up exactly what the “offensive content” would be. He said, “inappropriate content called ‘harmful to minors’ as defined by SB56 is ‘any description, exhibition, presentation or representation, in whatever form, of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse when the material or performance, taken as a whole or, with respect to prosecution for an act described by subsection (a)(1), that…the average adult person…find[s]…[appeals to a] prurient interest in sex to minors[;]…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[;]…lacks serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic or political value.'”

“In short,” Whitman added. “The bill states that nudity or descriptions and depictions of sexual situations that a reasonable adult member of society would find having literary, artistic or scientific merit would only be protected on a college level. Libraries and public school protections are removed.”

The bill attempts to make it clear what would qualify a work as inappropriate in someone’s mind. However, it is rather vague on exactly who would be making those decisions, which has educators like Whitman concerned about discrepancies in classrooms.

“As is evident, there is no definition of what a ‘reasonable’ adult member of society is,” he said. “Therefore, adult members of more conservative communities may be offended by the very material in classrooms that adults in more liberal communities venerate as high art or of educational importance.”

Works that are now considered staples in the classroom could potentially be removed under the bill, including works considered classics by many today.

It seems likely the bill would have the greatest impact on English, art, music and drama classes. It is possible, however, that science courses would be affected as well, as Whitman points out.

“The statue of David could be considered pornographic smut in one [community], a classic sculpture in another,” he said.

“The same can be said for literature; To Kill a Mockingbird centers around a rape trial. Furthermore, human anatomy classes may be affected. What about showtunes from Broadway musicals in choir or drama classes that may be a bit racy on occasion?”

It remains to be seen what the rest of the Kansas government will do with this bill. The legislature reconvened March 4, after a mid-session break. If the bill was to get through to Governor Sam Brownback’s desk and signed into law, Whitman does not have a sunny outlook on what it would mean for teachers and school administrators in Kansas.

“With the removal of protections coupled with ambiguous definitions, the state is setting up a modern day witch hunt on educators.”

Image from kshs.org.

Also Read:

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