When do high school creative-writing assignments become "grooming"?

Answer: When they instruct students to write sex scenes that “you wouldn’t show your mom.” At least that’s the answer Mayor Craig Shubert of Hudson, Ohio gave the local school board when he demanded that all five members resign. Not only did students get that direction from their school-supplied books, an instruction Shubert called potential “grooming” for sexual abuse, they also received  other instructions that could be charged as contributing to the delinquency of a minor (via Vodkapundit at PJM):

The Hudson mayor is asking all five school board members to resign or face possible criminal charges over high school course material that he said a judge called “child pornography.”

Mayor Craig Shubert made the statement during Monday night’s board of education meeting after multiple parents complained about the content of some writing prompts contained in a book called “642 Things to Write About” provided to high school students who are taking a college credit course called Writing in the Liberal Arts II.

Parents said there was a prompt that asked students to “write a sex scene you wouldn’t show your mom,” and another which said “rewrite the sex scene from above into one that you’d let your mom read.”

Another prompt asked students to drink a beer and describe how it tastes. Parents said they felt these writing prompts and others were not appropriate for high school students.

Gee … ya think? The instruction or even the suggestion from an unrelated adult that high school students imbibe alcohol would in any other context be a criminal act. Making it part of the curriculum in school amplifies the contribution to delinquency. Teachers are authority figures, after all, and an assignment or even a suggestion that such actions would improve their grades is a powerful incentive.

However, the school district denies that any of these were assigned to students. The book, they say, was distributed to them as supplemental material, not the main texts from which required assignments originated. No teacher actually used the material for assignments or even suggestions, the district superintendent insists:

In a statement, Superintendent Phil Herman apologized to parents and said, “an independent investigation is now underway to determine how these supplemental materials were reviewed and approved, and if any additional action should be taken.”

One parent perused the entire book and offered a list of objectionable instructions from the book:

Monica Havens, the mother of a high school senior who received the “642 Things to Write About” book and had worked as a teacher for 11 years, shared some of the prompts from the book at the board meeting:

  • Choose how you will die.
  • Write a scene that begins: ‘It was the first time I killed a man.’
  • Describe your favorite part of a man’s body using only verbs.
  • You have a dream that you’ve murdered someone. Who is it, how and why did the murder happen, and what happens afterward?
  • You are a serial killer. What TV shows are on your DVR list? Why?
  • The kill fee.
  • Write a sex scene you wouldn’t show your mom.
  • Rewrite the sex scene from above into one that you’d let your mom read.
  • You have just been caught in bed by a jealous spouse. How will you talk your way out of this?
  • Write a sermon for a beloved preacher who has been caught in a sex scandal.
  • Describe a time when you wanted to orgasm but couldn’t.
  • Ten euphemisms for sex.
  • You are a brand-new suicide-hotline counselor. Describe how you feel during the course of your first call.
  • Write a letter from the point of view of a drug addict.
  • Drink a beer. Write about the taste.
  • Write an X-rated Disney scenario.
  • A roomful of people who want to sleep together.
  • The first time you had sex.

In my day, the last topic would involve inventing a girlfriend in Canada.

In fairness to the authors and publisher of the book 642 Things to Write About, this was apparently never intended for high-school students. Its Amazon listing indicates a target reading age of “18 years and up,” and the intent of the book is to assist writers dealing with writer’s block. If there’s any value at all in an educational context, it would be aimed at college-age students, not minor teens in college-prep courses, for whom many of these suggestions would be beyond their life experience anyway.

Even so, some of these seem oddly obsessed with sex. Why ask to write erotic Disney fanfic as a way to clear writer’s block? It would likely make the problem worse, especially if your enduring mental image is of Ursula and King Triton. Yecccch.

Even if one takes the superintendent’s word that these never got assigned, how did they get distributed in the first place? Who bought them? More importantly, why were students told not to take them home? It certainly seems suspicious, and parents are right to be angry to have discovered that these books have floated around for years without their knowledge or consent. It’s yet another example of how parents have lost the ability to hold schools accountable for their performance, and how schools take advantage of that for their own indoctrination agendas.

One parent demanded cameras in the classroom. Better yet, perhaps we should let parents get vouchers to allow them to choose schools that do account for their performance in a more transparent manner.