Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s 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.
Way back in 1996, Alanis Morrissette asked, “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?” She might have been thinking about a “black fly in your Chardonnay,” but today her question is relevant for Iowa Republican legislators.
Here’s a good definition of the term: “Irony occurs in literature and in life whenever a person says or does something that departs from what we expect them to say or do.”
Ronald Reagan hasn’t roamed the Oval Office for 34 years, yet even now, you’ll hear GOP candidates quote the Gipper: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”
They love to quote it. They just don’t love to do it.
Their small government rhetoric doesn’t match their big government legislating. And since Republicans now pull all the levers of state government, there’s no check and balance on their overreach.
I don’t remember anyone campaigning on the idea of putting kids as young as 14 to work in factories, meatpacking plants, and mines. I didn’t hear a word from my state representative or senator about big government attending doctor’s appointments when parents were making life changing decisions about gender-affirming care. They didn’t utter a peep about being bathroom monitors for LQBTQ kids in public schools, and I don’t remember hearing guns belonged in school parking lots. Iowa House Republicans just voted for that policy this week (House File 654).
“Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”
I’m convinced Iowans don’t believe 14-year-olds should be working nights in dangerous settings. I’m sure Iowans don’t think allowing guns in school parking lots is a great idea, given that there have been 146 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2023 alone. Here’s a tip for those gun-toting parents: when you pick your kids up from school, go unarmed. Parents have been doing it for years.
Governor Kim Reynolds ironically calls her monstrous education bill (Senate File 496) a “parental empowerment” plan. It’s a classic example of big government smashing any semblance of local control, which was once a priority for politicians on both sides of the aisle.
The plan only provides rights to parents who share the governor’s narrow-minded ideology. Parents who want their children to read uncensored literature and study unedited history would be out of luck under this bill.
It was hard enough to track the bill’s provisions after the Senate amended the governor’s version. Then the House threw its own wish list in, and the bill morphed into an even scarier monster.
One part of the bill elevates legislative judgement over that of educators by inserting this sentence about classroom or library materials: “Age-appropriate does not include any material with graphic descriptions or visual descriptions of a sex act.”
Who defines “graphic description?” Will those in charge be the Moms for Liberty, or professional educators who have devoted their careers to understanding what “age-appropriate” means? I bet you can guess who has the governor’s ear.
Using this vague definition, many of Shakespeare’s plays could be off limits. Classic American fiction like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, and Lord of the Flies may also be excluded. After all, many school administrators are conflict-averse. They will no doubt error on the side of avoiding controversy.
Ironically, many of these legislators haven’t set foot in a classroom lately or talked to many public school teacher. So their definition of “age appropriate” is either copied from some hard right consultant or provided by handful of angry parents.
There’s nothing wrong with a parent deciding their child shouldn’t read a particular book. There is something terribly wrong when that same parent is allowed to dictate that no kids in the school can read it. Most public schools allow parents to opt their kids out of something they find objectionable.
Although the legislative session is thankfully winding down, there’s still time to consider more ironic bills. For example, the House Ways and Means Committee recently passed House File 712, which would prohibit social media companies from collecting data on children under age 18 (including the information needed to set up an account) without “verifiable parental consent.”
There’s little doubt social media can be dangerous. There are predators lurking online and corporations secretly collect data. But remember, the same legislature that wants to keep kids safe from Snapchat is also considering Senate File 542, which would relax labor regulations and allow kids as young as 14 to work in meatpacking plants or serve liquor in restaurants.
By the way, restricting social media accounts for kids isn’t an original idea. Bright red Utah enacted a similar law, and it may not be enforceable.
Trying to keep kids off social media will be about as impactful as shouting at a storm. The storm won’t end, but you’ll get wet.
The pending Iowa House proposal is a bad bill for three reasons. Proponents have said a law is needed to stop kids from signing up for social media accounts without their parents’ knowledge. Yes, that can happen.
But along with parental rights comes parental responsibilities. Do we really need big Republican government interfering? Don’t parents have some responsibility?
This bill may have unintended consequences, limiting the use of online news sources and web sites students may use for research. That could narrow a student’s world.
Finally, the bill is bad politically. Those kids are going to grow up, and many will vote. Perhaps they will remember that Republicans restricted a freedom they loved.
Wouldn’t that be ironic?