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.
Most teaching happens in a classroom with only students in attendance. Occasionally, a visitor drops by, but that’s rare. However, teachers who direct choirs or bands, or coach or advise activities, have large public audiences chock full of experts ready to second-guess.
I was a high school English teacher and adviser for the yearbook and student newspaper. While it might differ from the pressure felt when a championship game was on the line, it had public pressure. The difference was the boo-birds weren’t in the bleachers, they were on the phone and email.
The school newspaper I advised appeared in the local paper once a month. It was 8 or 16 pages of student work. Even though I had top-notch students, the adviser and students made public mistakes. The paper also contained student editorials, and cartoons that sometimes caused a public gasp.
For example, I had one colleague who took it upon himself to circle all the errors in the newspaper and place an edited copy in my mailbox. After a few months of nicely reminding him his student mistakes were private and mine were public, I reached the boiling point. The next publication, a few student articles bled red from his pen. I’d had enough. I marched to his room and strongly suggested where he could store his pen on his person. He knew I didn’t mean his pocket. The red ink dried up.
The newspaper was monthly, but the yearbook took a year to produce, so it was expected to be pristine. It was always good, never pristine.
One of the biggest jobs was to establish a theme for the book. We wanted something up-to-date, catchy, but flexible enough so students could truthfully capture the story of the year. We wanted a theme that didn’t favor one group. Deciding on a theme was tricky because what sounds good in August may not work in May. We misfired a couple times and changed it to something more workable.
Lately, I’ve been reminded of those yearbook theme sessions as Governor Kim Reynolds rolled out her new Iowa slogan and brand: “Freedom to Flourish.”
It would be a bad yearbook theme. It’s an awful state motto. In yearbook language we’d say, “It’s not broad enough to capture the truth.” Bluntly, it’s a lie. It has about as much credibility as Jason Aldean’s song about small towns.
Who has the freedom to flourish in Iowa?
It’s sure not public-school teachers, who lost their freedom to teach when the governor and her legislative lemmings rewrote the curriculum.
It’s not the kids struggling to find their identity, or parents who lost the ability to make some medical decisions.
Freedom sure isn’t flourishing for people who believe 14-year-olds shouldn’t be allowed to work full shifts in dangerous jobs, or for families on food assistance, whose benefits were recently slashed.
For women needing reproductive choice there’s little freedom to be found.
For those who think guns don’t belong in every person’s pocket, this new freedom to flourish seems deadly.
Perhaps the only group flourishing under the Reynolds’ freedom are MAGA worshipers afraid of anyone considered “other.”
Thinking about the times we changed yearbook themes, I’d suggest Iowa’s new theme should be “Fight to Flourish.”
Iowa is not Kim Reynolds’ audition platform; It’s our beloved state. We don’t need a branding campaign funded with $300,000 in federal dollars, dreamed up by some out of state consultants who might have flown over Iowa once.
If we don’t “Fight to Flourish,” there may be no one left to turn out the lights.
Top image: New state brand, with “Freedom to Flourish” slogan.