Isn't it ironic?

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?

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  • A masterful piece

    Dear Bruce,

    This is a fantastic opinion piece. It is remarkable how homophobic these Right Wing Iowa House and Senate legislators are and their contempt for marginalized LGTBQ+ kids, especially those who are non-binary. They simply want to avoid bullying while satisfying our state’s educational requirements.

    I fear for the safety of these kids. If anything it emboldens bullying tactics whether it is in the hallways, bathrooms, parking lots, classrooms or buses. It is a page out of the Nazi Germany Brown Shirts’ handbook of the 1930s. Every last legal battle needs to be waged against these maleficent anti Trans/“Don’t Say Gay” bills. Bullying blood of non-binary students will be on the hands of the Iowa power trifecta of Senate and House state legislators and our repressive Governor, and it should boil any Iowan’s blood that people allowed these cowardly politicians repress and wage war upon the LGTBQ+ Community. Excellent guest opinion piece, Bruce.

    • Dear Wstaplin

      ME. I wonder why Iowa’s legislature has given over so much time to enact new laws to the detriment, exclusion, and (dare I say) punishment of the LBGTQ+ community.

      It’s not too hard to find an answer. For me — an old man, white, and cisgender, who — for much of my life was unfamiliar with sexual orientation or gender-defining issues and concerns — it doesn’t seem unusual that my peer group would be as uninformed and possibly ignorant of unseen minorities and their societal experiences. That I don’t find ironic. But, seeing where men and some women (people elected to posts of legislative responsibility) have come from, does not excuse them from acting on that ignorance.

      Fortunately, in the 21st century, a public person, a legislator, could see her/his career ended by uttering a racial slur or making unwanted sexual advances. Or — behaving badly, like sexually inappropriately, even in a bar, even before seeking office — can so tarnish a person’s reputation as to push him/her to the bottom rungs of any political influence they aspire to. Except, of course, Trump, which I find ironic, given the religiosity of much of the R’s base. The pictures of the pious Kim R bussing the X-prez are easy to find. And, you can still find a YouTube of her reading a couple artfully explicit paragraphs from a library book (not classroom text) meant for young adults.

      We expect a lot from legislators. But empathy, LBGTQ+ affirmation, and inclusion aren’t among those expectations.

      An irritant to the Republican side of the aisle is the thought that a trans girl might ask to compete in a girl’s sport and, theoretically, excel to the disadvantage of cisgender girls. Bare in mind, this is more a thought than a fearsome reality. 99% of the legislature do not know of such a conundrum

      A columnist in the CR Gazette wrote last Sunday that she had “touched on some of the physical differences between males and females in a column I (she) wrote in March 2022. Most of those differences favor males, giving them a distinct performance advantage over females beginning with the onset of puberty.”

      From her observation the columnist reiterated the physical advantages a male has over a female. Many states, including Iowa, (she says) now have laws to protect girls’ sports from unfair competition between bodies with lopsided advantages. She reaches the conclusion and warns that the Biden administration proposes rule changes in Title IX that would reintroduce this unfairness into girl’s sports.

      My response is that the instances of this fearsome thought-to-be unfair competition are as rare as hen’s teeth. And, her column is exasperatingly bias and does harm to a civil society by legitimizing discrimination that is otherwise protected by law.

      It’s rarity is on the same scale as a 6’9” woman entering competition in the WNBA. And, if that woman happens to be African-American, is in a same-sex marriage, a vocal advocate for police reform, and happens to find herself in a Russian jail over a minuscule dose of cannabis found on her person — well, let her rot in prison. This seems to me to be the attitude of the legislature’s majority toward LBGTQ+ affirmation and inclusion. This attitude has found its way, as Bruce says, into bathroom legislation, sports participation, school lessons, parental judgment about gender-affirming childcare, library books, etc. and et. al. While ignoring issues like water quality and agricultural pollutants in Iowa’s rivers, streams, and lakes.

      Want to know what transgender adults say about their school experiences? Don’t read on if facts hurt your feelings.

      AS PER WAPO. The Post-Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll is the largest nongovernmental survey of U.S. transgender adults ever conducted using random sampling methods. Between Nov. 10 and Dec. 1 of last year, 515 people who identify as trans answered questions about their experiences growing up and their lives post-transition. More than 800 cisgender adults were also part of the survey.

      The poll found that 45 percent of trans adults felt unsafe in school, compared with 37 percent who felt unsafe at religious gatherings, 30 percent who felt unsafe in their homes and 25 percent who felt unsafe participating in youth sports or extracurriculars. In each of these situations, cisgender people were far more likely to report positive experiences, with just 10 percent of cisgender adults recalling feeling unsafe at school.

      The results come as the nation debates what children should be able to learn and do at school, and as a GOP-led movement seeks to circumscribe the rights of LGBTQ students. As of late 2022, eight states had passed 15 laws limiting education on gender identity or sexual orientation, per a Post analysis, while 22 states had passed 27 laws barring trans students from sports teams and school facilities that match their gender identities. As of April 10, at least 10 states had enacted laws restricting gender-affirming health care for trans children.

      Poor treatment at school can spur mental health crises, curbing academic achievement and generating consequences that span lifetimes. The Post-KFF poll found that, compared with Americans as a whole, trans adults are more than twice as likely to face depression or anxiety growing up. In Idaho, Scott said his sufferings at school led to a suicide attempt at age 15 and decades of substance abuse.