Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.
Michael Stahr of Boone recently asked in a letter to the Des Moines Register, “Why won’t teachers cooperate with parents?” Aside from assuming facts not in evidence, his question is worthy of comment.
Stahr was responding to a guest column by public school educator Matt Pries, entitled “Educators should be in schools’ driver’s seat.” Stahr counters with, “A teaching certificate doesn’t mean that kids are the teacher’s. Nor are they the community’s. They are the parent’s.”
Stahr is not alone in harboring the “who owns kids” nonsense. The best answer is that a child belongs to him/herself or their selves. Parents are their kid’s first teachers, but youngsters get guidance along the way from friends and every other person they meet, especially teachers.
Unfortunately, Governor Kim Reynolds used the scary phrase “They’re coming for our kids” in her speech to Moms for Liberty last February. She wasn't referring to the yellow buses that pick up kids each morning.
She must have meant public school teachers are “coming for kids” — because school libraries contain a book or two that she and her Moms for Liberty allies thInk is risqué or inappropriate (or as some Republicans say, “pornographic”).
The governor does a disservice to teachers everywhere when she puts this kernel of disinformation into parents’ minds.
Sadly, politicians have used this line to stoke distrust and leverage support for their agendas in more than 20 Republican-controlled states. It confuses parents about the purpose of public education with silly questions about who “owns” a child.
Parents should know the rule: “A teacher or school administrator may act IN LOCO PARENTIS during the school day, meaning they have the authority to make decisions for the child as if they were the child's parent.”
Stahr goes on to say,
Liberal educators are in this situation because they went too far for too long taking it upon themselves to expose children as young as first-graders to subjects and books that many parents feel are inappropriate for their children.
This paragraph is nonsense and offers a window onto a tragic worldview. The same thinking has invaded the whole of state government. The use of "expose" is especially disgusting. Yes, teachers do “expose” first graders to “Dick and Jane,” and some parents may object. Beyond that, it’s a politically motivated fabrication that totally misrepresents elementary instruction.
It did not require a huge piece of legislation (like Senate File 496) to deal with parents’ (often differing) estimates of what is/is not appropriate for their children to read. Parents should take any specific concerns to their local school board, not the legislature. All districts already had book review procedures.
Stahr went on to ask: “It isn’t an either/or situation. Why not work with parents rather than wanting them and Gov. Kim Reynolds to butt out because they don’t have teaching certificates?”
That loaded question is the equivalent of the classic, “When did you stop beating your wife?”
In her speech to Moms for Liberty, the governor quoted from a Linn-Mar School Board member’s Facebook posting from January 24. The school board member had correctly observed: “The purpose of a public ed is not to teach kids what parents want. It is to teach them what society needs them to know. The client is not the parent, but the community.”
That statement merely cites the long held purpose of public education, going back to 150 years to Horace Mann and others. This understanding comes from the belief there is a battery of coursework—skills, understandings, knowledge, and attitudes—that every child should study.
For the most part, communities have always coalesced around a proposition that it’s a public duty to provide nonsectarian common schools to bring the whole community up to snuff — on the 3Rs and our common, but diverse history and culture, social consciousness, languages, and emerging sciences, technologies, and extracurriculars. Elected community leaders sit as a board to employ professional educators (like Matt Pries) to teach the required curriculum and coach sports, music, and so on. That's still state law in Iowa.
Parents who feel differently can choose (now with state funding) to send their children to a private school that suits their personal beliefs. Presumably, the school libraries there would contain only books sectarian parents think appropriate.
Top photo of Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich (left) with Governor Kim Reynolds in Des Moines on February 2, 2023, first published on Reynolds' political Facebook page.