Kansas Senate Approves Bill That Criminalizes Teaching Material Deemed “Harmful to Minors” March 1, 2015

Kansas Senate Approves Bill That Criminalizes Teaching Material Deemed “Harmful to Minors”

The Kansas State Senate on Wednesday passed S.B. 56, with twenty-six Republican senators supporting the measure, and six Republicans and eight Democrats opposing. The bill is ostensibly designed to protect students by making it illegal to display or present material that is “harmful to minors,” such as pornography.

But the broad categorizations and vague language have caused concern among teachers and free speech advocates about what will and won’t be policed. While libraries, museums, and universities are still exempt from these rules, schools (public or otherwise) are no longer protected. The bill specifies that the offending material must be such that “a reasonable person would find that the material or performance lacks serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic or political value for minors”… but since reasonable people (or large, vocal numbers of unreasonable people, which sometimes gets confused with the former) can disagree, this leaves a dangerous gray area for educators.

As if to underscore just how murky this gets, this week also saw Kansas State Representative Joseph Scapa arguing for a repeal of Common Core standards because he feels they — can you guess? — promote pornography.

“Common Core is full of so many things that don’t align with our Kansas values,” Scapa said. “For example, the English standards: The suggested reading lists are full of pornography. The standards themselves, in my opinion, are not rigorous.”

Asked which books he found pornographic, he cited “The Bluest Eye,” a novel by Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize-winning author.

Scapa pulled up a post on an anti-Common Core blog about “The Bluest Eye,” which included excerpts from the book dealing with sexuality. Scapa said he hasn’t read the whole book.

“I looked at enough of the book that I didn’t want to read any more,” Scapa said.

The fact is, most people consider themselves to be reasonable. Scapa probably considers himself reasonable, as do the people who vote for him. As, no doubt, would the teacher who sees educational merit in the books Scapa deems pornographic. In such cases, “reasonable” is likely to be little more than the opinion of the majority — whether that majority can see beyond sexual content… or can only see sexual content.

As Kansas art educator, Liesl Wright, notes, such a restrictive measure is bound to lead to issues in the normal course of teaching.

“My first thought: Oh no! This again? I’d be in trouble. I was showing my high school art students charcoal drawings of nude people just today. I do it all the time. You know when the religious laws regarding art are more restrictive than the European Renaissance, you’ve gone too damn far!

“It’s a very frightening thought for art and science teachers in particular,” she wrote.

Unfortunately, it seems the book burning mentality isn’t entirely behind us…

(Image via Shutterstock)

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