TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Teachers in Hillsborough County are being told there are parts of some books they will not be able to teach or even talk about in class this year.
“If there is any sexual content in the book, teachers can not talk about it,” Hillsborough County public schools spokeswoman Tanya Arja said.
This means teachers will only be able to teach some authors’ works in excerpts, including Shakespeare.
“Teachers are frightened. I mean they don’t know what they can and can not do. So, we’re trying to actually walk on thin ice while meeting the needs of the students. So, it becomes very challenging for all of us in public education right now,” said Rob Kriete, the President of the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association, who previously taught Shakespeare.
“It was some of the greatest lessons that I delivered, is actually teaching Shakespeare in the classroom because not only are we talking about a great piece of literature that’s older than dirt but we can really look at literary analysis. We hold the mirror up to compare to our society to a hundred years ago,” said Kriete.
Emily Jones is an associated professor at the University of South Florida who specializes in the literature of early modern England, focusing on Milton, Shakespeare, and women writers.
She said that during his time, Shakespeare was writing for an adult audience.
“There’s a lot in Shakespeare. He wrote to be entertaining. He wrote for adult audiences. He wrote to provide action and excitement and laughs and drama and so there are jokes that are racy, in Shakespeare,” said Jones. “Mostly Shakespeare is about big ideas, big themes, I don’t think that as a writer, he is a pornographic writer or an offensive writer or anything like that.”
She is concerned about the impact it will have on students if they only learn small segments of his works.
“I do think we need to be careful about only teaching students tiny pieces of texts. I do think that ill prepares them to think about big ideas and to be able to speak intelligently about large and important topics,” said Jones.
The Hillsborough County School District says the changes are needed to comply with state law.
“This was an instructional decision to ensure our students are prepared for state assessments while also taking new state laws into consideration. We redesigned our instructional guides for teachers because of revised state standards and new state exams that will cover a variety of books and writing styles. Instead of two novels read in their entirety, students will read one full novel plus excerpts from five to seven other novels,” Arja wrote in a statement to the media.