Saturday, January 30, 2016

An Open Letter to the KS House Judiciary Committee- SB56

After a friend told me a bill that allows the prosecution of teachers for allowing minors to view "harmful" material was resurrected, I decided to share the email that I am sending to my representative. Click here for the post I wrote about basically the same bill a couple years ago.

House Judiciary Committee,

I am writing today in regard to SB56 which is supposed to protect students from their teachers. First of all since I don't think you've spent much time in public schools, teachers don't go around showing pornography. I know about the isolated incident that inspired SB 56, and while I understand the concern, I think that an entire bill that makes it sound as though teachers who have dedicated their lives to serving children are a big enough risk to children's wellbeing that they can be charged with a misdemeanor for something unintentional is a huge overreaction. SB56, even if the author had good intentions, could end up causing much more harm than good. The wording refers to what the "average" person would find unsuitable, but who is the "average" person? What is offensive to me might be perfectly acceptable to you, and vice versa. 

The language of the bill says no person shall knowingly "present or distribute to a minor, or otherwise allow a minor to view..." We can't always control what our students see. Let's say that a class is on a field trip to an art museum and walks past a classical painting, sculpture, etc. that happens to depict a nude figure. If a parent was upset that their child saw nudity, according to the language in the bill, the teacher could be liable for allowing the minor to view the work of art.
As a visual arts teacher, I am particularly concerned with this bill. It will be hard to do my job of teaching my students about the art world and the world through art if I have to walk on egg shells around art history. Nudity is part of many very important works of art through history- Michelangelo's David, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, even depictions of Christian stories like Adam and Eve and the Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel's ceiling. I, an award winning art teacher who has never received so much as a speeding ticket, could be charged with a misdemeanor for discussing one of those works of art with my students or even "allowing" them to see pictures in art history books that are kept in my classroom. Is my professional judgment worthless?

Wouldn't it make more sense to let schools deal with any isolated incidents that pop up than to make it harder for teachers to do their jobs out of fear of prosecution? Do politicians really have such a low view of teachers?

When this bill comes up for debate, I hope that you will do the reasonable thing and oppose this bill that vilifies teachers.

Katie Morris

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