Last year, Mary Pilcher-Cook, Republican Senator from Shawnee, Kansas, advanced a unique piece of legislation designed to put an end to pesky sex ed in Kansas schools. Under SB-56, teachers would be stripped of the right to an affirmative defense in teaching material that a community viewed as “morally objectionable” and they would be subject to prosecution in the form of a misdemeanor — facing fines and potential jail time.
By changing the rules, teachers who worked in sex-ed programs could be seen as distributing morally corrupting content to minors, which would put them at legal risk. Last year, the bill passed the Kansas Senate when Kansas Democrats dropped the ball and left the floor without leadership, long enough for Republicans to push the measure through.
Mary Pilcher-Cook, the original sponsor of the bill spoke as a proponent and made her position quite clear on the end goal. When pressed on what the end goal of this legislation would be, she pointed to the sex ed program at Hocker Grove Middle School in her district and noted: “I think this stops teachers from ever putting that poster up.”
The poster in question was placed in a room to teach sex ed to 8th grade students. The pullout defined what can be sex, listing only words — no graphics; but including many sex acts. On the page were “French Kissing”, “Masturbation”, “Oral Sex”, “Anal Sex”, etc. When asked to talk about what made the poster such damning pornography, Senator Pilcher-Cook struggled to get to the heart of it, knowing it was “very uncomfortable” to say the words aloud.
Senator Pilcher-Cook noted that one of the greatest problems of listing these sex acts in a classroom revolved around normalizing them for other students. Pointing out that a poster that listed “oral" and "anal" sex would imply to students that they were “ok” or “acceptable” was viewed by Pilcher-Cook as a slippery slope for introducing pornographic mindsets into children.
Speaking before the committee as another witness, Phillip Cosby of the American Family Association noted that maybe they were asking the legislators to be “the boy who put their fingers in the dam” of stopping the onslaught of pornography that faces kids, but that it was “important we take this step.” He noted prior instances of public indecency, citing Janet Jackson in the Super Bowl, as having lasting impact on the moral health of America.
Democrats came prepared, as representatives within the Judiciary John Carmichael (D-Wichita) and Jim Ward (D-Wichita) peppered witnesses with questions designed to get to the heart of the bill. Rep. Carmichael began by reading segments of Shakespeare, asking the witness whether or not sexually suggestive puns could be called into question. Representative Ward addressed the fact that public grand juries had just moved forward in the state, and asked proponents whether or not a grand jury could be used against a teacher.
What may have tilted the discussion, though, were the responses of the opposed to the legislation. In a charged back and forth, Representative Mark Kahrs (R-Wichita), asked Thomas Witt, Equality Kansas Executive Director what was appropriate for students. Rep. Kahrs asked whether or not discussing anal sex in an 8th grade course was meant to titillate and if it was appropriate for a student of 11, 12 years old*, to which Witt replied, “I’m not their teacher” before addressing the fact that a teacher must be able to teach the situation in the classroom, without the risk of jail time or fines for answering student questions.
The exchange, which frequently referenced the terms on the printed sheet, managed to effectively demonstrate that the words themselves, when spoken aloud, are not necessarily titillating or particularly designed to get someone aroused, as few attendees noted enhanced arousal states listening to legislators repeatedly asking whether or not the poster would ‘normalize’ oral & anal sex.
While the legislation passed the senate, it appears as though at this point it may be dead in the house. Senator Pilcher-Cook may be foiled today in advancing her anti-sex education policy, but told those attending it was important to “continue to protect communities,”a protection she extends, from her testimony, to making sure that certain sex acts are never considered “normal.”
* = From the asterick above: full disclosure, my son was at the school that was the subject of this storyline, Hocker Grove Middle School, as an eighth grader. He was 14. Hocker Grove is a 7th & 8th grade facility. I have no knowledge of 11-year-old children, going through Hocker Grove encountering this program, but, as a parent, I was comfortable with the use of the poster in reference.
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