Public Schools

The Bard banned: Fla. schools consider ejecting Shakespeare

  Rob Boston

A general, driven to a blind, jealous rage over false claims by his enemies that his wife has been unfaithful to him, strangles her.

Teen lovers, ordered to stay apart by their feuding families, end up killing themselves.

Characters frolic in a magic wood, making sexual innuendos and falling in love.

You may recognize these as the plots of three plays by William Shakespeare – “Othello,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” They’re important works in the literary canon – and they may also be pulled from some Florida public schools.

Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law to blame

Florida’s infamous Parental Rights in Education Law, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by opponents, states that if a school district determines that material used in class meets the law’s definition of “sexual conduct,” it must “discontinue use of the material for any grade level or age group for which such use is inappropriate or unsuitable.”

In Hillsborough County, educators decided they weren’t taking any chances. They reported recently that students would no longer be required to read Shakespeare plays – rather, they’ll just get some excerpts.

The story went viral, making the state look foolish (which it is doing a great job of that these days), and educational officials quickly began backpedaling, insisting that nothing in the law is meant to ban the Bard.

Teachers could be punished for running afoul of the law’s vague standards

But some educators remain wary – and with good cause. After it was passed, the “Don’t Say Gay” law was expanded to give new powers to state residents who want to challenge books in public schools. Any county resident – you don’t have to have children enrolled in a public school – can challenge a school library book if it “depicts or describes sexual conduct,” and other portions of the law punish teachers for including material about gender identification. These vague standards would cover any number of Shakespeare’s plays.

Teachers can lose their jobs for violating the law, so it’s understandable why some districts are choosing to play it safe.

Kathleen Malloy, coordinator for instructional materials in the Leon County Schools, told the Tallahassee Democrat that if a book contains even a tiny bit of what is considered by some people to be inappropriate content, it can trigger a challenge.

“If there were one or two small scenes in a book that we were not necessarily comfortable with, but the overall part of the book was really very valuable as a piece of literature, contributed to what students learned and so on, then I would look at that small percentage and be able to make a decision about a purchase. That’s changed,” Malloy said.

One piece of Christian Nationalists’ education-privatization agenda

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder if part of the plan of Florida’s current insanity isn’t to drive parents away from public schools and further the state’s education-privatization agenda.

Whatever the end game may be, the decisions being made, while they may delight Christian Nationalists, are hurting millions of young people whose education is being held hostage to the whims of extremists.

One of Shakespeare’s characters put it well: “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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