Saturday, March 03, 2007


Obscene Legislation

Get ready, because things in Kansas may well be about to get much uglier than any of us ever imagined.

The battles that have raged in Kansas since 1999 over evolution, sex education, and vouchers have certainly embarrassed the state, but no one was hurt. No lives were destroyed.

But now there's a bill in the legislature sponsored by State Rep. Lance Kinzer, a Republican from Olathe to ban pornography in public school classrooms. It's designed to make it easier to prosecute school teachers for using obscene materials in classrooms.

You say you didn't know they were showing X-rated films or passing around the skin mags in school. They aren't. But here in the Blue Valley School District there's been a running battle over a number of literary classics -- including Beloved, Toni Morrison's Nobel Prize winning novel about the effects of slavery -- which the lunatics on the religious right insist on labeling as porn.

You can find a list of the Pulitzer, PEN, National Book Award, and National Book Critics Circle award winning literature that would be labeled pornographic here. It's a virtual who's who of great American writing.

A small group of right-wing activists has tried to censor these books for the past two years. They've had hearing after hearing, but their views have been rejected time and again by parents, students, teachers, and administrators.

Most of the books on the list are used in advanced placement -- college level -- classes. This district has an open review process in place that gives voice to parents, teachers, and administrators in the decision making process. Members of the censorship group have been invited to participate in this process. There is an opt-out procedure for parents who don't wish their children to read the books in question.

The Blue Valley School District is one of the premier districts in the country. People who live in the district care deeply about education. They want their kids exposed to great literature. They want them to be prepared to go on to college -- as more than 90 percent of student here do.

Normally, we wouldn't worry too much about a bill like this. State legislatures pass all kinds of crazy bills that no one ever pays attention to once their voted into law.

However, that was before a small group of right-wing Republican activists voted to have former Attorney General Phill Kline serve out the remainder of the term of the man who beat him in the last election, Johnson County Prosecutor Paul Morrison.

Kline's first act after he took over the Prosecutor's Office was to fire eight members of the professional staff and install his own flunkies in their place.

No one who knows Kline's record -- that is to say anyone who lives in Kansas --will have the slightest doubt that he would hesitate for even a moment to bring pornography charges against a teacher in the Blue Valley school district for teaching I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou or the Hot Zone by Richard Preston.

Kline's a fanatic and a bully. He'd destroy the life and reputation of one of our great English teachers without hesitation.

He won't be in office long. Kline was beaten badly statewide in the last election. He was beaten even worse here in Johnson County. There is a lot of deep anger here over his appointment. There seems no question voters here will get rid of him at the next election.

The only question is, how much damage can he do between now and then?

Wichita Eagle editorial writer Randy Schofield has written an excellent editorial on this issue that should be read by everyone who is concerned about this issue.


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