Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.
A recent public opinion poll found that three-quarters of Americans want members of Congress to end their bickering and begin compromising more with their colleagues from the other party.
Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion conducted the nationwide poll in December for National Public Radio and the PBS News Hour.
If such a survey were conducted in Iowa, it’s my hunch the pollsters would find people here have similar views of the inability, or unwillingness, of senators and representatives in Washington to engage in the thoughtful give-and-take art of lawmaking.
It is also my hunch that Iowans are at a similar point with respect to the legislature’s recent string of proposed laws that target our 327 public school districts.
That hunch jelled even before Governor Kim Reynolds signaled last week where she may be headed next in her quest to transform public schools. Her new goal should bother freedom-loving moms and dads and others who understand what our Founding Fathers wanted when they established the United States—you know, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Reynolds addressed a gathering of a few hundred people in Des Moines at a February 2 forum organized by a national group called Moms for Liberty. The group advocates for changes in state laws to give parents more say in how public K-12 schools operate.
The governor said Iowa needs to “restore sanity, to make sure our schools are a place of learning and not indoctrination.”
She floated the idea of changing Iowa law so that if one school district decides to remove a book from its libraries or classrooms, then every other school district would be required to remove the same book and allow students to read it only with their parents’ permission.
The governor believes public school districts are dominated by “an extreme and extremely loud minority” who are hostile to parents’ values. She criticized public schools for “demonizing our country” and for having “an obsession with race in the classroom.”
It is important to note, however, that Reynolds did not cite specific examples to buttress her claims. It is also important to note that the demographics of Iowa’s school districts vary widely. Some are made up of nearly all white kids, while most students are not white in others. Some serve populations where dozens of languages are spoken at home.
Reynolds did not share with her audience how Iowa schools’ current book-review process works when students or others in the community file complaints. That is important, too, because those decisions to keep, remove or restrict access to certain books involve committees of educators, students and ordinary citizens. School superintendents and the school boards elected by voters ultimately are the final arbiters.
School districts already have policies in place permitting parents to ask that their child not be given certain books for classroom assignments, and not be allowed to check out certain books from the school libraries.
What is troubling about Reynolds’ latest proposal is that it would allow a handful of parents in one school to substitute their judgment for the book decisions that rightfully should be made by tens of thousands of other parents across Iowa. The logistics of complying with such an ill-conceived law could quickly overwhelm teachers and administrators.
The idea of banning books runs counter to most people’s concept of freedom. It seems to be a practice more common in authoritarian countries, rather than the world’s leading democracy.
If there are books some parents do not want their own children reading, those parents already have a way to keep those books out of their kids’ hands at school. No one is trying to take that role away from them. But those parents should not have veto power over the books other parents are comfortable allowing their kids to read.
Many of those “comfortable” parents realize the internet has content accessible to anyone, including school kids, that is far more graphic and more offensive than anything students will find in their school library.
PEN America, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for free expression, issued a report last fall that found Texas schools banned more books from their libraries than any other state—801 books in 22 school districts. Most of the books dealt with race, racism, abortion and LGBTQ topics.
Through history, officials have tried to ban access to such acclaimed titles as To Kill a Mockingbird, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s top executive, said in a statement issued with the report on banned books: “This censorious movement is turning our public schools into political battlegrounds, driving wedges within communities, forcing teachers and librarians from their jobs, and casting a chill over the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpin a flourishing democracy.”
Editor's note from Laura Belin: You can watch Governor Kim Reynolds' remarks at the Moms for Liberty town hall on this video, beginning around the 13:45 mark. Around the 22:00 mark, the governor began discussing her new proposal. Among other things, it would require that "material that's removed from any Iowa school district would require consent in every Iowa school district before being shared with children."
Top image: Screenshot of Governor Kim Reynolds during the February 2 town hall in Des Moines.
The Governor is often short on details for plans she has so that part of her future agenda for public schools doesn't surprise me. What I would like to know is she speaks now of a district banning books is she going to include the private schools in her plan. For example, if a private school bans To Kill a Mockingbird, does that mean all schools must remove it from their shelves? Could it also be that if a private school bans TKAM, then all private schools must ban it? What happens if a school district bans a book, then a new school board comes in and reinstates the book; does that apply to all schools? Finally, if an elementary school decides that a book shouldn't be in their library, and the school board agrees, does it also apply to the middle schools and high schools? So many questions, so much to do.