A storm's coming. It's time to act

Bruce Lear suggests many ways communities can help educators combat new threats to Iowa's public schools.

On summer days when we need a shirt change by noon, and the breeze rustling the leaves feels like a winter furnace out of control, Iowans know there’s a storm coming.

They also know action is needed before it hits. They call the kids in and fasten down what could fly. They move their cars to a safer place, check flashlight batteries, and find the candles. Then they head for the basement to ride out the storm.

Only the foolish stand outdoors to shout at the wind. Only the naive rely on hope.

Now, Iowa faces a different kind of storm. This one is not inevitable or a force of nature. It’s a political force that must be stopped before it blows away a precious Iowa resource, its public schools.

Ask any Iowa teacher how they’ve coped with the pandemic years and the legislature's attacks and meddling. Then ask how long they plan to stay in the profession. Educators have been going above and beyond, but they are worn out, and many are heading for the exits.  

They’re sick of having their profession used by self-serving politicians to rile up a conservative base for fundraising or vote harvesting. It’s not their fight alone; it’s a community battle.

Here’s just some of the intensity of this storm.

First, Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman vowed to pass a law to jail educators who make books, he considers pornographic available to students. He opened the 2022 legislative session by accusing Iowa teachers of having a “sinister agenda” to harm children.

Now, he’s made good on his bullying by introducing Senate File 2198, which makes it a serious misdemeanor to knowingly distribute obscene material in school. The bill also allows a parent or guardian to sue the school for civil damages.     

Chapman isn’t the only bully. In her Condition of the State address, Governor Kim Reynolds suggested Iowa public school libraries were full of dirty books that would be X-rated if they were movies. Later she proposed that all classroom syllabuses and library books be published online for parents to review.

I have a news flash for the governor. Even though her proposal would be needless added work, teachers can certainly publish a syllabus for a year, but don’t expect it to be accurate on a day to day or even a week-to-week basis. 

A good teacher often adapts, either to slow down the pace for understanding, or to move more quickly to meet the students' needs. Depending on what’s going on, there are “teachable moments.” Part of knowing how to teach is knowing your class and understanding how to pace. 

And about those books in the library: the card catalog has never been a secret, but a kid’s TikTok account might be.

To one up Reynolds and Chapman, Republican State Representative Norlin Mommsen introduced House File 2177. His bill would require a live feed in every Iowa public school classroom, so parents can see in real time whether teachers are corrupting the youth. Another unfunded mandate. But what about most parents, who don’t want their children on camera?

Yes, this all sounds like a bad skit from Saturday Night Live, but it’s very real. If January 6 taught us anything, it's that some gullible extremists will take violent action based on nonsense, and lies.

I could provide many more examples of the gathering storm. But let’s stop shouting and take some action to prevent the damage. 

Here’s some suggestions before we all huddle in the basement to wait.

It’s not a coincidence that “Community” is part of nearly every school district's mane. This is a community problem. Educators can't solve it alone. The community needs to rally around teachers, and I don’t mean with small gifts and pats on the back.

It’s time to stage community protests at the state capitol and in local legislative forums. First, we need to get the lawmakers' attention and make them worry about losing their jobs.   

For example, a local group could stage a funeral for public education complete with mourners and a coffin. Another example might be to have a group of early retirees speak candidly about why they are leaving the teaching profession now.   

Maybe have students stage a mock book burning where they pretend to get burned by the fire. Include the Bible as a book accidentally burned.

Educators, if you are not a member of the Iowa State Education Association, join now. They are a statewide union lobbying and working for teachers and students. Get involved with your local association. ISEA has your back.

We need to ask some the tough questions of legislators and the governor, such as:

  1. Do you agree that ______________ school district teachers have a “Sinister Agenda?”  If so, please describe it.
  2. Can you provide a list of books that you think are pornographic or inappropriate in the school districts you represent?
  3. Do you support putting cameras in every classroom? If so, how would you protect the privacy of those parents who do not want their students to be shown?
  4. Do you believe a 2.5 percent increase in state aid is enough school funding, given an inflation rate around 7 percent?
  5. What action will you take concerning the growing educator shortage? Please be specific?
  6. What is your solution for the substitute teacher shortage?
  7. Do you favor a 4 percent flat state income tax? If so, how will you fill the revenue gap when the federal COVID-19 relief funds run out?
  8. When was the last time you spent a day in a public school?
  9. Do you support public money going to private schools?
  10. Tell us one positive thing you’ve done for community schools.

It’s time for the community to make education a voting issue. Just as some have a passion for protecting gun rights, we need voters to have the same commitment to protecting our schools.

Even if you hate politics, choose a pro-public education candidate and work to get them elected. The candidate may not be perfect, but don’t let perfect get in the way of possible.

We can’t afford to stand out in the rain and shout at the wind. It’s not enough to hope for the best. It’s time to act to stop the storm. We owe it to our children. We owe it to the future.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association Regional Director for 27 years until retiring.

Top image: Tornado digs up Iowa landscape. Photo by Jonah Lange available via Shutterstock.

  • Bold Action

    I too strongly recommend bold action. I think the teachers union should organize and lead a statewide sickout (or others that Bruce suggests) in protest of the legislature and its proposals to ban books; put cameras in classrooms; shift public money to private, unaccountable academies; prohibit teaching accurate history; destabilize democracy; enlarge class sizes; drain the pipeline of replacement teachers; ferment rightwing outrage, and deny the usefulness of mitigation to combat Covid, etc. etc.

  • Action in support of teachers is paramount

    I support our teachers and I’m sure there are others like me who would be glad to join in actions to support our teachers and promote improvements in Iowa education. I will certainly keep that list of questions available to ask our legislators.

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