Kansas Legislators and fellow Kansans,
I am writing to you today in regard to Senate Bill 56, the so-called “teacher prosecution bill,” which puts teachers at risk of criminal charges for using “harmful” materials in the classroom. I am not affiliated with any teachers’ unions, and I don’t pretend to speak for all teachers. However, as a Kansas English teacher, educated in Kansas myself, I find this bill personally offensive--not because I have an unhealthy attachment to “harmful” classics like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. I am offended that my peers in the Capitol find me incapable of teaching such works with responsibility, integrity, and sensitivity.
I don’t know when my fellow teachers and I became your enemies, Kansas. I know that you want to protect your children and their values, that you are afraid teachers are pushing an agenda. Well, you’re right. You’re right to want the best for your children, and you’re right that we teachers have an agenda. Here it is:
We want the best for your children, too. We want them to be happy, healthy, productive citizens of the world, who are capable of making decisions and solving problems. We want them to be strong, empathetic visionaries who leave the world a little better than they found it.
You and I may differ on what that looks like, and we may differ on methods. But here’s the secret: that’s okay. Because I am a responsible, educated adult, you can approach me like a peer; my lesson plans, curriculum, and classroom discussions are not state secrets, and I would love to talk to you about them. In fact, my friends can tell you that I have a hard time shutting up about them! If you feel nervous or uncomfortable about the material I teach, ask me how I plan to handle it. Ask me what behavior I expect from my students. Ask me what you can do at home to support your children’s learning while still emphasizing the values you want them to have. These are perfectly reasonable requests, and I would love to answer them.
I realize that there are individual teachers who are irresponsible when handling delicate subject matter. But they are in the minority and should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Please don’t assume we’re all irresponsible and corrupt because one or two may be. Most of us don’t really have time to “stick it to the man,” as we are too busy grading papers.
Criminalizing teachers and removing certain works from our syllabi won’t make schools cleaner places. If Senate Bill 56 becomes law, and if teachers are prosecuted and convicted, students will still hear “harmful” and “objectionable” content at school--they just won’t hear it under the supervision of a trustworthy adult in the context of a learning environment. In the meantime, the convicted teachers will only be making our prisons more literary.
I love Kansas, and I love Kansas kids. I don’t want to be your enemy, Kansas, especially when it could be so easy for you to make me your ally.