Bruce Lear

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A snowbird education

Photos by Bruce Lear, published with permission

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com  

There’s a learning curve for every change. How sharp the curve is depends on the speed of the change. The journey from Iowa snowbound to Florida snowbird was abrupt but welcome.

We bought a small place in the land of alligators and golf carts and headed South a day after the last January blizzard. Here are a few lessons from our snowbird education.

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A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

There’s a beloved children’s book titled, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, and it gets worse from there. 

After Governor Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech on January 9, Area Education Agencies woke up with gum in their hair and it became a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year.”

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Educators don't need guns

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

Educators need a lot of things. They need adequate on time school funding, parental support, dedicated school boards, administrators who’ll back them, copy paper, supplies, adequate preparation time, professional pay, positive working conditions, technology, and a legislature who supports public schools and doesn’t interfere with real teaching and learning.

They don’t need guns.

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Senate bill would hurt Iowa's public sector unions and schools

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com   

America thrives on competition. We love it when victory hangs in the balance. Super Bowl Sunday is almost a national holiday that we celebrate with parties and betting. Court TV is a guilty pleasure for millions. Local, statewide, and national elections earn attention. Whatever the result, we want the competition to be fair.

Senate File 2374, which the Iowa Senate Workforce Committee approved along party lines last week, would cripple public sector unions while once again attacking public schools.

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Proposed library bill is another attack on ideas

Photo by Bruce Lear of the public library in Alden, Iowa.

UPDATE: None of the bills that threatened to undermine the independence of public libraries made it past the Iowa legislature’s first “funnel” deadline on February 16. Original post follows.

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com   

Most Iowa towns have a few things in common: a gas station, a bar, a sprinkling of different church flavors, and a public library.  

Now, almost all of Iowa’s 500 public libraries are governed by a board of trustees. The library trustees make policy and oversee the collection. They are volunteer boards that function independently but are appointed by city councils.

That all could change if House Study Bill 678 becomes law. 

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Governor's revised plan for Iowa AEAs is still very bad

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

In 7th grade, I tried to build a shadowbox. I had plans, but I lacked skill. After struggling for weeks, the deadline loomed, and my shadow box was a shadow of what it was supposed to be.

I turned it in. My shop teacher frowned, sized it up and said, “Work on it a little more.” I did.

After a week of measuring, sawing in the wrong places, and hammering my fingers more than once, I tuned it in again.

This time the frown was a silent grimace. In true shop teacher bluntness, he said, “It’s still really bad.” Then remembering he was supposed to encourage, he said, “You’ll get it next time.” 

I didn’t.

My 7th grade shadowbox is like the rewrite of Governor Kim Reynolds’ “AEA Destruction Act,” Senate Study Bill 3073. The governor’s proposed amendment is still really bad.

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The Condition of the State is a scary surprise

Governor Kim Reynolds delivers the Condition of the State address on January 9, 2024. Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register (pool).

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com   

We love surprises when we anticipate they’ll be positive. But we dread the surprise of a car not starting on a subzero morning, a call at 2 a.m. from a loved one crying, or a doctor’s hushed prognosis. We laugh when people jump out at a party shouting surprise because we know we’re safe. But we scream if a group jumps out surprising us while we’re on a midnight walk.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech last week was a scary surprise party for public educators and parents.

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Iowa legislative predictions from the Magic 8 Ball

Photo of Magic 8 ball is by ChristianHeldt, available via Wikimedia Commons

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com  

When my kids were younger, we had a Magic 8 Ball. If you asked a Yes or No question and shook it, up popped an answer like, “Without a doubt,” “Outlook not so good,” or “Concentrate and ask again.” 

The Iowa legislature’s 2024 session began on January 8. Like last year, public education may well be on top of the agenda. With that in mind. I thought I’d introduce the Bruce Lear Magic 8 Ball. My version is next generation, so there’s an explanation with each answer. 

Like all predictions, they may be flat wrong, and they sure aren’t inevitable, especially if the education community unites and acts.

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Lessons learned on a basketball court

Photo of basketball court in Hillsboro, Oregon is by M.O. Stevens, available via Wikimedia Commons

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com 

No Apple phones, No Madden 24 NFL, and there was not a Tik or a Tok to be found. It was just a fenced concrete slab and two slightly bent backboards with chain nets. There wasn’t free throw line or half court markings. It was strictly BYOB, bring your own basketball. 

The ball sometimes flew over the fence and landed in Bear Crick. We took turns wading in or finding a big enough stick to retrieve the errant ball. Sometimes the lights blazed long after we’d been called to supper, but since we lived a block away, I’d be sent down to switch them off.

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Downsizing AEAs would be another attack on Iowa schools

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.  

Governor Kim Reynolds’ attitude toward public education reminds me of a scene from an old movie called the Longest Yard, starring Burt Reynolds. There’s a 2005 Adam Sandler remake, but that’s more like a missed field goal.

Burt plays Paul Crewe, a wisecracking, pro quarterback who is convicted and sent to prison. The warden stages a game between the guards and prisoners.

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Dependable schools require dependable maintenance

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. 

Dad loved to tell the story of the guy so lazy that when he had a flat tire, he sold the car instead of changing the tire. That story was accompanied by a PS: “If you want a dependable car, you have to provide dependable maintenance.” 

It’s also true for public schools.

It’s a lesson for Governor Kim Reynolds.

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Political chaos prevents problem solving

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. 

In college, I worked as a security guard at a window factory. My job was to make rounds ensuring there were no intruders or fires. Usually there were two guards working in two connected factories. 

The factory was dark; guards were alone.

Most nights I read and dozed. The guards hired were either college students or people who couldn’t find another job, since $2.20 an hour was a lousy wage, even in 1978. 

One of the guards was a failed undertaker who tried to entertain us with mortuary horror stories. He also frequently left his building to jump out and scare the other guard on duty. Most nights, it was a joke.   

But one night, things changed.

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Iowa governor tries to defend vague education law

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. 

In a hearing, I always knew when the lawyer on the other side didn’t have a good case. Instead of focusing on facts, they shouted and pounded the table more in hopes the arbitrator might forget and get distracted by a loud passionate argument. 

That’s what Governor Kim Reynolds tried during her October 25 press conference, when asked about book banning in public schools.

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What school boards can do to address Iowa's teacher shortage

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. 

It’s school board candidate forum season heading toward the November 7 elections. Watching these events, I’ve noticed most candidates, except those with their own political agenda, understand our state is facing a profound teacher shortage. 

Recently, I’ve heard candidates say, “We need to attract and retain teachers.” But how can school boards do that? What must happen in Iowa to make it possible?

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There's trouble in the city of refuge

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. 

As a Central College student, I learned Pella has two Hebrew definitions: “City of Refuge” and “Marvel of God.” But neither of these definitions captures the storm raging in this small college town around book banning. This time it’s not about books in the public school’s curriculum or library. This controversy centers on books in the public library.

The Pella storm began long before this year, when Iowa Republican lawmakers and Governor Kim Reynolds enacted Senate File 496. Among other things, the new law states that school libraries and classrooms may only contain “age-appropriate” materials, and further says age-appropriate “does not include any material with descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act” as defined in a separate code section.

The current Pella conflict began nearly two years ago, when a parent complained the public library had Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe on the adult shelves. That award-winning book “recounts Kobabe’s journey from adolescence to adulthood and the author’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality.”

But it’s not just about this book. 

Like Senate File 496, it’s a battle to censor ideas a few people find offensive.

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Americans are tired of dysfunction

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. 

Whenever Dad saw someone struggling to get something done, he’d say, “That guy’s working with a short-handled shovel.”

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s shovel handle is short, and he let a tiny group of his own party saw it off so he could become speaker.

Now, the U.S. is facing a shutdown because McCarthy doesn’t have enough votes in his own party to keep the federal government open beyond September 30, and his party will toss him out if he reaches across the aisle to compromise for Democratic votes.

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School boards help Iowa schools survive

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. 

As Republican presidential wannabes traipse across the countryside, offering 30-second solutions for complex problems, a more immediate election is looming. School board elections on November 7 will help determine whether our community school thrives, suffers, or dies.

Currently, Governor Kim Reynolds and a group of legislative lemmings are committed to creating a two-tiered school system in Iowa, separate and unequal, both funded with public dollars. One tier is used as a political punching bag, has new laws to cope with, accepts all students, and is chronically underfunded. The other tier has funding from a new voucher entitlement, can pick and choose who to accept, and has little to no accountability to taxpayers.

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Teachers are unique

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.

The butter used to sculpt the butter cow is in cold storage. In stores, back-to-school supplies are supplanted by Halloween. From the looks of Facebook, parents mostly won the first day photo battle and got the cherished shot of their kids holding a paper plate with their new grade announced boldly.

School has started.

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It's time for the education community to protect one another

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.

In some families, there’s an unwritten rule. You may fight within the family, but if someone from the outside attacks, you unite to defend. Well, the education family is under attack. It’s time for all parts of the family—school boards, administrators, teachers, staff, and substitutes—to circle the wagons to protect the profession and our students.

I know a lot of educators hate politics and they hate the “us-vs-them mentality.” But teachers who’ve taught more than a couple of years realize the profession is being torn apart by the big school board in Des Moines, called the Iowa legislature. 

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A love letter for my teachers

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. He took the photo above of Shellsburg School (now Vinton-Shellsburg).

Teachers have earned appreciation for more than a week in May or during tragedies like school shootings or a pandemic. They really do train all other professions.  

People who boast about pulling themselves up with their bootstraps have short memories. If I tried to pull myself up with my own bootstraps, they would have broken, and my boots would have remained firmly on the floor. No, in my tiny school in my tiny town, I had some dedicated motivators called teachers.

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Fight to Flourish

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.

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If it sounds too good to be true...

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. Bruce took the photo above, of a Branson attraction that’s not what it seems.

We’d been driving a few hours. The warning signs were flashing, backs aching, bladders full. Time to stop. We were on an anniversary trip to Branson, Missouri. Branson is the Las Vegas of the Ozarks. But think Vegas sans gambling, and with an added “heapin helpin” of southern, family, values.

Just before Branson, we saw a huge sign screaming “Discount Show Tickets Here.” My wife craves discounts, and those warning signs persisted. We stopped.

Little did we know as we stepped from the car to the building, we were entering THE TIME-SHARE ZONE. In the time-share zone, nothing is what it seems, and everything is too good to be true. 

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We can stop this storm

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.

There’s only silence. Waves of heat cause the blacktop to steam. Outdoor dogs slouch with snouts on sweaty paws, without raising hooded eyes. They offer no usual chase, only a feeble growl as kids peddle slowly by. The stillness envelopes newly planted corn, so if your heads cocked just right, you hear it moan growing. Thermometers glow 98, but it’s hotter.

Old men rub aching knees and nod knowingly.

30 miles north, thunder begins its roar, wind buckle shingles on roofs long overdue as lightning begins a fireworks show not seen since two July Fourths ago. 

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A dumpster fire ready to ignite

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.

It’s been 33 years since Rosanne Barr butchered the National Anthem on live TV at a Padres baseball game. I remember asking then, “What did they expect to happen?” 

After all, Barr wasn’t a singer. She was an over-the-top standup comedian also starring in “Roseanne,” a sitcom shattering the myth of the “Leave it to Beaver family” on TV. Not only did Barr screech the anthem, she did it while plugging her ears and giggling. Then she grabbed her crotch and spit on the ground. 

The public reaction was fierce. The stands erupted in boos and taunts, and the Padres faced a public relations nightmare complete with veteran groups condemning Barr and calling for boycotts of the team. 

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Educators, it's time to organize to save books

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.

Book banning is nothing new for public schools. In the 1980s, I was teaching Lord of the Flies. One day, I took a call from a grandpa convinced I was ruining his granddaughter’s life by introducing her to characters like Piggy, Jack, and the gang. 

According to Grandpa, the book was porno about a bunch of boys stranded on an island who become savages.  I was happy—at least he understood the basic plot. 

But my happiness was short-lived when he called me “a dirty, commie liberal who shouldn’t be teaching.” I was 23 and didn’t know any communists, but knew I’d soon be fired.

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A house divided cannot stand

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.

While running for the U.S. Senate in 1858, Abraham Lincoln quoted a portion of Mathew 12:25, which has been translated as, “A House divided against itself cannot stand.” 

He was talking about slavery, but 165 years later, our country and some of our cherished institutions still haven’t grasped that united is better than divided.

There’s an adage that the two subjects you don’t discuss in polite company are religion and politics.  But those two topics are now hard not to mention together because both are immersed in culture wars.

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Jumping off a fiscal cliff isn't an option

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.

Where I grew up there were multiple sources of news. To hear the news, men gathered at the post office and Standard station, while women preferred the Clover Farm Store or Rebekah Lodge. 

It wasn’t broadcast news. It was secret, local news that an impolite observer might call gossip.

There was typical gossip including who bought a new combine, whose car was parked too long at the lower tavern, and who had the worst dye job in town. 

But there were special categories delivered only in whispers. Things like a cancer diagnosis, a church lady with a fresh shiner, or a recent bankruptcy. These whispers were met with silence, and the few Catholics crossing themselves.

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A TikTok graduation speech

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. He took the photo above, featuring Pearl Lear, Ethan Lear, and Megan Windeshausen Lear.

I don’t remember who spoke at my high school graduation. It wasn’t memorable. The class before us had Dick Clark as the speaker. It wasn’t the Dick “I’d give it a 5, because it’s got a good beat, and easy to dance to” Clark. Rather, it was Iowa’s U.S. Senator Dick Clark. But that class had 24 members and a newly minted gym to celebrate. We had thirteen graduating, and by then the new gym smelled old. No senator in sight.

I know I was there, because I remember my graduation hat didn’t fit, and it kept falling forward, so I saw only the pomp, and missed the circumstances. I did keep the tassel, but it faded to a weird pink color from hanging on my rear-view mirror too long.

I wasn’t valedictorian or salutatorian, but I was in the top ten. But being in the top ten of thirteen doesn’t earn a graduation speaking gig. So 48 years later, I offer my unsolicited graduation speech.

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Iowa needs to escape the boiling water

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.

There’s an old story about how to boil a frog. If you put a frog in boiling water, it will quickly jump out. But supposedly, if you put a frog in tepid water and gradually heat it, the frog stays until it boils to death. 

Like the frog, Iowans failed to recognize the danger of political climate change. And Iowa is now boiling.

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Keep Iowa's public schools NRA-free

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.

When I was a kid, Mom warned, “Make sure you keep a screen door between you and the Fuller Brush man. They won’t leave, and all they do is to sell, sell, sell.”

I remember that caution as I’m reading House File 654, the bill Iowa House Republicans recently approved. Among other things, the “firearms omnibus” would encourage public schools to implement age-appropriate gun safety instruction from grades K-12, “based on the eddie eagle gunsafe program developed by the National Rifle Association.”

It’s not the curriculum I question, it’s the messenger and what’s behind bringing the NRA into Iowa’s public schools.

Once in the door, they’ll “sell, sell, sell.” And the NRA is not just peddling brushes. 

They’re selling gun culture.

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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.

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The danger of groupthink

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.

As a teacher I joked, “I hope I die during teacher in-service, because the transition won’t be abrupt.” Those meetings were deadly dull, and about as relevant to teaching as Lawrence Welk to rock and roll. 

But there were exceptions.

During one of those deadly sessions, the principal wheeled in the Betamax, and we watched “The Road to Abilene.”  It’s a simple story, and it might help answer the question, what happened to Iowa?

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Legislative attacks hurt Iowa students, teachers

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.

On that first day of school in 1979, I oozed anxiety. After all, there were 30 sets of unknown eyes waiting for the show to begin. I was the show. Am I going to be the tough guy not smiling until Halloween or the open arms teacher? Will my deodorant hold so I don’t pit-out before first period?

That was then. Now, Iowa teachers have much more to worry about than pit stains

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We need serious people to solve serious problems

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.

Lately I’ve been thinking about why Iowa GOP politicians seem committed to shouting at the rain instead of solving real problems.

I think the answer might be in a quote from the 1995 movie The American President. Fictional President Andrew Shepard says, “We’re a society that has assigned low priority to education and has looked the other way while our public schools have been decimated. We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.”

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Let's stop defining and start doing

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

Everyone probably remembers the junior high or high school bully.  The one who terrorized vulnerable kids, who dressed a little differently or didn’t say the right things. The ones who didn’t fit in. Those perceived as “other.”

Every school had a bully.

The only thing worse than a lone bully is a group of them trying to outdo each other. Then it becomes a competition to see who can punch down harder on their victims. When bullying escalates, the environment deteriorates. 

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Don't bring a spoon to a knife fight

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

The poet Maya Angelou said it best: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

For the third straight year, Governor Kim Reynolds told Iowa she wanted public money to fund private schools.  She told us who she was. The 52 percent of Iowans who oppose public funds for private school costs should have believed her and voted for her opponent last year.

But the election is over, and we still need to protect our public schools. 

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Separate and unequal is wrong for Iowa

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to 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.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ private school voucher plan, which is being rammed through the Iowa legislature, does more than throw public coffers open to private schools. It obliterates the line between church and state as a new entitlement spawns an unequal, two-tier publicly-funded school system. 

Ironically, 86 years before the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that a two-tier public-school system based on race was unconstitutional, the Iowa Supreme Court determined in Clark v. Board of School Directors, “Schools may not segregate students based on race.”

An unequal publicly-funded system didn’t work then.

It won’t work now.

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A legislative forum primer

The Iowa legislature’s 2023 session begins on January 9.

Over the years, I’ve participated in some great Iowa legislative forums and some that left me with what the old commercial called an Excedrin headache. Most of the time, those headaches came because I didn’t prepare, and I left things unsaid or unquestioned. It’s a little like being in a debate with someone and knowing just the right thing to say, a few hours too late.

For that reason, I offer a simple guide for discussing private school vouchers at legislative forums. Although Iowa House Republicans have twice refused to pass Governor Kim Reynolds’ scheme, and a statewide poll last year showed 52 percent of Iowans opposed using public money for private schools, the governor seems determined to force a yes vote. Those who oppose vouchers need to be equally determined and prepared.

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Let's not surrender a piece of Iowa

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to 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.

For decades, small town Iowans were enthralled with 6-on-6 high school girls’ basketball, a game mostly played in towns with no stoplights. It was quaint. It was unique. It was fun to watch.

I was a fan.

The 6-on-6 game focused a spotlight on Iowa when many from the coasts couldn’t find the state on a map. We didn’t have mountains, or oceans, but we had a unique game that sparked national interest.

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Good people making bad gun decisions

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to 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.

Educators need quite a few things. They need unlimited paper, markers, books, pens, glue, multicolored construction paper, and high-speed internet. They also need more school funding, freedom to teach, more preparation time, more respect, more salary, better benefits, and smaller classes. 

But they don’t need guns.

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It's a unique profession

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to 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

There really are some jobs your guidance counselor never imagined. For example, some people work as professional cuddlers for those struggling with loneliness, depression, and trauma. Some are paid to test water slides at resorts and hotels, to make sure they are safe and fun. Specialists ghost write online dating profiles for people short on writing skills, but long on virtual romancing. And there are even professional bridesmaids, for the brides with few close friends but big wedding plans. 

All a bit strange, but real occupations held by real people.

Teaching isn’t as unfamiliar as those jobs, but it is unique from other professions in at least four ways.

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This election is saturated with anger

Bruce Lear: Voters must stop reacting to red meat appeals and start voting like compromise isn’t a dirty word.

A few times during my career, a problem-solving meeting morphed into a scene from the Walking Dead

Adrenaline surged and the sides shifted into attack mode. Anger trumped reason. Both sides worked to score a knockout. By the end, no one remembered why we met. Everyone was hungover from anger and worn out from attacks. Nothing was solved.

What happened in those meetings reminds me of what our elections have become. Based on recent polling, it’s not a surprise. 

According to a recent NBC News nationwide poll, 80 percent of Democrats and Republicans “believe the political opposition poses a threat that, if not stopped, will destroy America as we know it.”

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Six things for Iowa educators to consider before voting

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to public schools for 38 years. He taught for elevent years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association Regional Director for 27 years until retiring.  He grew up in Shellsburg, Iowa.  He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com. 

Dear Iowa educators:

Some things are obviously not in our best interest. We don’t follow the GPS when the path leads into a river. We don’t tell our spouse he or she looks fat in those jeans, and we don’t wear a University of Iowa shirt in an Iowa State bar, or vice versa.  

It’s common sense. 

On November 8, Iowa’s educators will face big choices. To avoid trouble later, we need to make decisions rooted in our best interest, because public education is on the ballot.

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Governor Reynolds, don't become Donald Trump

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to public schools for 38 years. He taught for four years in Alden and seven years in Cherokee, then represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association Regional Director for 27 years until retiring.

Anyone who watches television has seen the Progressive Insurance commercial where Dr. Rick helps young homeowners becoming their parents. He gives advice like, “We don’t need a line monitor.” “You don’t need to clap after a movie because no one in the theater made the movie.” “Don’t leave a long message on an answering machine, just text.”

I had three thoughts when I first saw this commercial. First, I was amused. Second, the old guy in me thought, young people would benefit quite a bit from becoming their parents. But the rational guy in me questioned, in a fast-changing world, do we really want young people becoming their parents? The answer was an emphatic no.

My third thought was that Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds might benefit from a little advice on how not to become Donald Trump.

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Brenna Bird's tv ad is over the top

Bruce Lear highlights misguided messages in Republican attorney general candidate Brenna Bird’s tv ad, now airing in heavy rotation.

The old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” seems true. TV executives find the formula for a hit medical show and then order five more imitators. If one Marvel movie superhero captures our imaginations, why not dig a little deeper into the comic book vault for a dozen more?

Political commercials also imitate. For example, how many right-wing politicians shooting guns can the voters watch? How many east or west coast politicians running for president do Iowans need to see dressed in flannel shirts sitting on bales of hay proclaiming their undying love for ethanol? If it worked once, consultants repeat, repeat, and repeat again.

One political imitation ad recently caught my attention. It tries to catch the vibe of Joni Ernst’s “Make ’em squeal” ad from her first U.S. Senate campaign in 2014. Shock the viewer with crude humor, but with smiles all around. After all, if it worked for a little-known state senator from Red Oak, maybe it will work for a little-known county attorney from Guthrie County.

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Support staffs have earned our respect

Bruce Lear: Support staff personnel are often ignored or treated as disposable instead of essential. But they are the glue holding schools together.

After a long career as a carpenter, my dad took a job as the night custodian for the small school I graduated from. He worked 3:00 to 11:00. The people in the building loved him because he’d go out of his way to help. He loved the work, and he was good at it. 

One time I was on a break from college and my dad had the flu and couldn’t go to work. It was rare, but he called the school and then went to bed.

A few minutes after 3:00, I answered the phone. It was the school superintendent. 

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Long-term attacks on public schools

Bruce Lear reviews a new worrying line of attack on educators coming out of Republican-controlled states.

As a kid, I loved fishing off the dock because it assured immediate action, since I could catch tiny fish as fast as my worm hit the water.

But my dad practiced real fishing. He’d pack a lunch and fish in a small boat all day, even if nothing but mosquitoes were biting. He was in it for the long term, and it paid off with big catches. If he didn’t catch anything one day, he’d try again the next. He understood big catches took patience.

Like my dad’s long-term fishing, Republicans understand culture wars aren’t about instant gratification. The best example is their 49-year battle against Roe v Wade. They eventually found a right-wing majority on the Supreme Court brazen enough to overturn settled law and rob women of privacy and thus choice.

But the new front in the culture war is clearly public education. The hard right seems determined to chip away through multiple avenues of attack. 

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Meddling in primaries is risky and wrong

Bruce Lear: No political party should gamble our democracy because it wants to face the weakest opponent in a general election. 

I’ve heard from police officers that intervening in domestic disputes is very dangerous. Often those fighting unite and turn on the officer.

Now, some Democratic interest groups are intervening in the Republican party’s family fight, its primary. The goal is to boost Republican candidates that Democrats judge to be too extreme to win a general election.

That boost comes in two ways. One approach is to amplify the “extreme candidate,” and the other is to run negative ads about his/her more “moderate opponents.”

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Iowa doesn't need a gun amendment

Bruce Lear: The constitutional amendment Iowans will vote on in November goes much further than the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I love the movie Tombstone, featuring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday, Sam Elliot as Virgil, and Bill Paxton as Morgan. It’s a little shorter than Kevin Costner’s 3 hour plus marathon Earp, released a few months later.      

Tombstone came out in 1993, but it’s still a good watch even for the fifth time. It’s also relevant now, because the U.S. Supreme Court recently expanded gun rights, and this November, Iowans will be asked to enshrine guns into our state’s constitution.

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Public school advocates need to be single-issue voters

Bruce Lear: As Iowa’s education foundation crumbles, public school supporters need to be as persistent and passionate as the governor. 

It’s no secret single-issue voters are loud, proud, and powerful. They fuel campaigns with rhetoric and resources. When choosing candidates, they focus on their long-term goals and don’t demand perfection over what’s possible.  

That’s how America woke up to find Donald Trump elected president. Thanks to three U.S. Supreme Court justices he appointed, the court is poised to ignore 49 years of precedent by turning back the clock to when women had few rights, slavery was commonplace, and only land-owning, white, males counted.

Throughout my professional career, I’ve heard educators say, “Yes, public education is important, but it’s not the only issue.”  

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Messaging about culture wars needs to be clear, simple

Bruce Lear has advice for Democrats on how to talk about ginned-up controversies related to public schools.

My grandson and I love Marvel movies. We sit in the front row and bask in the over-the-top action. We’ve seen them all. Sometimes the plot is a little confusing, but my nine-year-old movie buddy quickly helps me sort it out.

What isn’t confusing is who the superheroes are. They clearly are the good guys. It’s straightforward and even in technicolor, very black and white.

Republicans are good at ginning up culture wars without facts, using plenty of accusations hidden behind a catchy slogan they repeat more than a 3-year-old begging for candy.

Too often, Democratic candidates go in culture wars unarmed. They are shocked when Republicans capture attention with some absurd issue that Democrats think the public can’t possibly believe. They are blindsided and without answers. Like in Marvel movies, Democrats should leave no doubt who the superheroes for public schools are.

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A contract with public schools

Bruce Lear: Iowa Democratic candidates at all levels need to put public schools at the center of their campaigns.

Whenever my dad saw someone doing things the hard way, he’d say, “That guy’s working with a short-handled shovel.” I know I did my share of short-handled shovel work.

My dad wasn’t being mean. He was just observing there was a better way to do the work. His long-ago quip now applies to Democrats as they try to win over voters for the midterm elections.

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A monster's lurking in the legislature

Bruce Lear analyzes a bill pending in the Iowa Senate, which would be disastrous for public schools.

We’ve all watched horror movies where the ominous music increases in intensity as the victim walks alone in the dark. The monster is about to attack, and the soda and popcorn are about to fly. 

Well, cue the spooky music and hold onto the snacks because there’s a monster lurking. This one is scary real, and it’s called Iowa Senate File 2369.

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Helping Governor Reynolds revise her big speech

Bruce Lear critiques Governor Kim Reynolds’ response to the State of the Union address.

When I began teaching, the first graduate credit I earned was through the Iowa Writer’s Project. It was a great summer workshop, which taught writing by focusing on the process as well as the finished product. Like in math, it’s about having students show their work. 

Using this method, students learn to edit and revise their writing by working with a partner instead of having a teacher slash and burn with a red pen after the final product is handed in for a grade.

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A storm's coming. It's time to act

Bruce Lear suggests many ways communities can help educators combat new threats to Iowa’s public schools.

On summer days when we need a shirt change by noon, and the breeze rustling the leaves feels like a winter furnace out of control, Iowans know there’s a storm coming.

They also know action is needed before it hits. They call the kids in and fasten down what could fly. They move their cars to a safer place, check flashlight batteries, and find the candles. Then they head for the basement to ride out the storm.

Only the foolish stand outdoors to shout at the wind. Only the naive rely on hope.

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It all could have been different

Bruce Lear: What if, instead of shunning masks early in the pandemic, Donald Trump had marketed them like his resorts and his casinos? 

Most of us have a few What ifs in our lives. What if I had taken the other job offer? What if I had sunk that buzzer beater? What if I had gone on the blind date and met my soulmate? What if I had invested in Apple instead of Enron?  

Continually second-guessing ourselves is about as comfortable as being a loud liberal at a Sioux Center Chamber of Commerce meeting. But indulge me as I ponder the road not taken by Donald Trump, since he never apologizes or admits to having regrets. 

The “What ifs” of those who led the country during a once-in-a-century public health crisis could make us all sick. 

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Iowa is being led off a cliff

Bruce Lear: What once were fringe ideas have become mainstream in the GOP echo chamber.

When I was at Central College in Pella during the mid-1970s, the Lemming Race was born in honor of the furry little rodent that strangely follows its leader right off a cliff.  

Here’s how the race works. A group of costumed racers gather at the library, run to the pond in the center of campus, and jump in. If onlookers get too close to the edge, they’re pulled in too. The race is led by a Grand Lemming, nominated and elected in some mysterious way. It was fun, harmless, and now a Homecoming event going strong for over 40 years.

I was again reminded of that Central tradition when I watched a self-satisfied Governor Kim Reynolds deliver her Condition of the State speech to a chamber packed with legislative lemmings willing to take Iowa off that cliff.

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Words ignited a storm that threatens us all

Bruce Lear: In order to protect democracy, it’s important to study the words of the past, the present, and the future.

They say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” This child’s rhyme is cute, but wrong.  

Words wound personally, and words were a catalyst for a political lie that morphed into a January 6 storm threatening all future democratic elections.

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The obscene attacks on Iowa's public schools

Bruce Lear reviews how Republican-backed laws have adversely affected Iowa schools.

There’s some real obscenity in Iowa public schools, but it’s not the kind Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman has been ranting about.

Speaking in November at a packed school district meeting in Johnston, Chapman complained about two books and said he is drafting a bill to create a felony offense for distributing what he considers to be obscene material. Never mind that Iowa already has a number of laws about the distribution of real pornography. Chapman sees a need to single out teachers and librarians for making books he doesn’t like available to high school students. 

Like most wannabe book banners, Chapman probably hasn’t read the supposedly offensive books. He is also using public schools (which should unite communities) to further divide us.  

No, the obscenity is not in these books that Chapman doesn’t like. The real obscenity is what Republican legislators have done to Iowa schools. Here are some examples of the attacks on public schools, which are emptying classrooms of dedicated, teachers. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter famously said when deciding a pornography case, “I know it when I see it.” Let’s review the GOP’s record toward public schools and teachers.

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The 1776 Pledge is a pledge of division

Bruce Lear: Pretend patriots are afraid to let students understand all of American history so they can make informed judgments.

When a girl or boy joins the Scouts, they pledge to be a part of a troop and a part of the community of scouting. When a college student joins a sorority or fraternity, they make a positive pledge to be a part of something. We pledge allegiance to the flag as a community of Americans.    

But not all pledges are positive. Some drive a wedge between us. The 1776 Pledge isn’t about building a community. It’s more like a tool to mold public schools into a political prop instead of a place of learning.

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Stop bringing a white paper to a knife fight

Bruce Lear: Democratic candidates need to sharpen their messages around education going into the 2022 elections.

During the recent governor’s election in Virginia, Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe told the truth, but it sounded like hell to parents. McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” He was so right, but his Republican opponent made it sound so wrong. It wasn’t the only reason he lost, but it was a big factor.

In a world of one-minute answers, his political opponent Glenn Youngkin was able to pounced on the comment and twist it to say, “McAuliffe believes parents should have no say in their child’s education.” McAuliffe was left trying to explain, “I didn’t mean that.” It was too little, too late.

Why should anyone but political junkies care about an election in Virginia? Because making public education into a wedge issue is now part of the GOP playbook for the next election. In some races, Republicans will flirt enough with Donald Trump to court his base, but won’t go full Trump. In other deep red races, they’ll fully embrace their hero. 

But no matter what race, GOP candidates will try to use public education as a hammer to stun their opponent. So one thing’s for sure: Democrats need to sharpen their messages around education, or they’ll face a red tide that will drown them. 

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Substitute teachers are important members of the education family

Bruce Lear: It’s time schools started making recruiting and retaining substitute teachers a priority instead of an afterthought.

Remember those days in junior high when class is about to start? The bell rings, and in walks a teacher no one knows. It takes only seconds for the junior high mind, which struggled yesterday to add single digits, to calculate if this substitute is one that can be goofed on. You know, things like switching seats, making up fake names, and generally testing classroom boundaries. It’s mostly harmless, but stuff not tried with the “regular teacher.”

That was then—this is now.

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Let's not change the definition of local control

Bruce Lear: Instead of allowing elected school boards to make decisions for a school district, Iowa’s governor now defines local control as parents deciding what’s best for their own children.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating, especially since Governor Kim Reynolds has altered the definition of local control to justify signing a mask mandate ban for schools. There’s a reason “Community” is the middle name for almost every public school district in Iowa. 

Public schools are often a town’s largest employer as well as the community center. On Friday nights, the school’s fields or gyms can be the center of the universe for young athletes and their parents.

In fact, the relationship is symbiotic. The community helps the school thrive, and the school helps a community survive.

Too bad Reynolds distrusts Iowa communities so much she won’t allow local control over safety decisions fitting the community. Instead she is appealing a federal court decision that put the mask mandate ban on hold. 

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Iowa could learn from Sin City

Bruce Lear shares lessons learned from a recent visit to Las Vegas, where mask mandates are enforced.

I just returned from Las Vegas. Yes, sin city. Where “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”  Yet, Iowa could learn from this place of no limits.  A sentence I thought I’d never write.

Vegas has a strict mask policy in all casinos, shows, restaurants, bars, and public transportation. It’s enforced. You can enjoy your freedom to lose your money, marvel at a glitzy show, watch the Raiders, the bad boys of the NFL, but you don’t have freedom to skip wearing a mask.

But in wholesome Iowa, land of the Field of Dreams, we just can’t bring ourselves to mandate masks at the grocery store or in schools. In Iowa, we’re quicker to help a down-and-out neighbor harvest corn than to wear a piece of cloth over our mouths and noses to protect that same neighbor’s health. Ironic, don’t you think?

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Sophomore smugness a real political problem

Bruce Lear discusses some questionable state and local decisions on how to use federal COVID-19 relief dollars. -promoted by Laura Belin

When I was in college, I came down with a bad case of sophomore smugness. In the middle of what I thought was a brilliant rant, my dad reminded me, “There is a reason you have two ears and only one mouth. Consider using them in proportion.” He was right.

As federal COVID-19 relief funds flow to local and state governments, there has been little listening and a whole lot of group-think and group-speak. After all, the only thing harder than cutting a budget for politicians is deciding how to spend one-time, unexpected money poured into their coffers. 

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Following some rules of thumb

Bruce Lear: If Iowa Democrats insist on sacrificing the possible for the perfect, we’ll lose again. -promoted by Laura Belin

As a kid, when I heard adults talking about “rules of thumb,” I kept looking at my thumb, but couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t get it then, but I do now. The dictionary definition is, “A general principle regarded as roughly correct, but not intended to be scientifically accurate.” 

My definition is similar: “What I believe to be true, based on experience.” It isn’t always accurate, but it’s served me pretty well.

Here are a few of my rules. I never eat a hot dog that comes off that roller thing at a convenience store. They aren’t convenient for my stomach.

I’m not amused by amusement rides that soar above the height of a step ladder. 

I know tomorrow is another day I won’t use algebra, and none of my junior high screw ups actually went on my permanent record.

I know if my wife or daughter asks, “Are you wearing that?”, I’m not.

Some rules of thumb about politics have also served me well. 

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Let's keep the Big Lie from attacking local elections

Bruce Lear: In several Iowa communities, conservatives have formed pressure groups, seeking to influence school curriculum and school board elections.

After the 2020 election, the U.S. was forced to fight two raging viruses. COVID-19 killed more than 600,000 Americans and continues to plague the world. The “Big Lie” virus killed a once proud political party and continues to threaten our system of government.

The COVID-19 virus continually mutates and spreads. We don’t know the exact origin, and it’s hard to identify its carriers, but we’ve sure seen the destruction it causes. Fortunately, the coronavirus vaccine is now easy to get. 

The antidote to the “Big Lie” virus is believing the truth, but that’s harder to administer. Unlike COVID-19, we know its origin: a narcissistic ex-president who refuses to acknowledge he lost an election, citing non-existent voter fraud without shred of credible evidence.

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Classroom meddling in Iowa can’t go unanswered

Bruce Lear on how a new law banning certain “specific defined concepts” in diversity training could affect Iowa teachers. -promoted by Laura Belin

Yes, it’s been a horrible, terrible, very bad year for public schools in Iowa. As usual, the Republican-controlled Iowa legislature underfunded schools. Also typical for them, they tried again to pass a voucher law to give public money to private schools. 

When that didn’t work, they passed “vouchers lite”: a mostly unregulated, for-profit charter school law, that will no doubt siphon money from the already underfunded public system, and that could leave rural Iowa as an education desert.

What wasn’t quite as typical was the legislature’s meddling in the classroom.

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Attacks on Iowa public education lurk in House-approved budget bill

Most parents know that a car trip lasting too long makes kids mad and mean. With not much to do, they pick on each other and the picking becomes a full-blown fight. The adult goal is to end the trip and the fight as fast as possible. 

Like the too long car trip, the 2021 session of the Iowa legislature has devolved into mad and mean. It’s time for them to end the ride and go home. 

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Iowa can lead the way

Bruce Lear: A bipartisan policing reform law enacted last year was supposed to be a start. As it turned out, that bill was also the the end. -promoted by Laura Belin

When a police officer pulls me over for a traffic stop, I don’t think death sentence. I think where is my registration and insurance card, and what did I do now?

That’s white privilege, and that’s not how any of this should work.

I know it’s possible to honor and respect the police, and still be horrified when unarmed person of color is murdered by a police officer, often on video, and then the officer is exonerated by internal investigation or by the courts.

I also know there is a middle ground between the “Defund the police” crowd and those who know we need strong, fair, well trained, law enforcement not required to play the role of social worker or psychologist. 

Something has to change in this country. Iowa lawmakers took a first step in 2020, but didn’t follow through this year.

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It's as bad as the voucher bill

Bruce Lear identifies problems with a charter school bill Iowa House Republicans passed on March 24. -promoted by Laura Belin

When I was a teenager, my Mom told me, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” I didn’t believe it then, but I do now. It’s especially true when the majority party tries to sneak a bad bill through the Iowa House after midnight.

That’s exactly what happened when Republicans passed House File 813, an effort to promote charter schools, with no public hearing and little public notice. This bill would change how a charter school may be started in Iowa by keeping the provision in current law allowing application to a local school board, but expanding that application process so the “founding group” may bypass the local school board and go directly to the Iowa Department of Education.

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It's all about censorship

Bruce Lear covers a bill that didn’t get much attention this week. -promoted by Laura Belin

Here is a good rule of thumb. If a state legislature tries to fool around with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it never ends well.  After all, the First Amendment is pretty clear and if there is ambiguity, we have courts to interpret.

But in their never-ending quest to break what isn’t broken, majority Republicans pushed Senate File 478 through the Iowa Senate. This bill masquerades as a free speech, but it actually penalizes professors and teachers who exercise a freedom we hold sacred.  

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It's hard to believe this legislative session is real

Bruce Lear covers some low points of this year’s Republican work in the Iowa House and Senate. -promoted by Laura Belin

Even though this Iowa legislative session may seem like a sketch from Saturday Night Live, it’s real.

But if it had a theme, it might be “Solutions in search of a problem,” or maybe “If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.”

In a legislative session this extreme, it’s really hard to focus on specific bills solving nonexistent problems, not because they are hard to find, but because there are so many.

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The deadly Trump sting

Bruce Lear: Donald Trump has already stung the GOP. But unlike the animals in a well-known fable, Republicans haven’t learned, “It’s just his nature.” -promoted by Laura Belin

As the Republican Party struggles with how to handle Donald Trump in his post-presidency, it may do well to remember the fable of the scorpion and the frog.

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Leaders need to be role models

Bruce Lear reviews Iowa Republican leaders’ latest words and actions on COVID-19. -promoted by Laura Belin

There have always been individuals in jobs we hold to a higher standard. We expect more from them because they are in the public spotlight and have a certain prestige.

To name just a few, we expect doctors, teachers, and star athletes to serve as role models, and most of these professions follow a code of ethics. If that code is broken, the public or their employer scream foul.

I guess Iowa Republican legislators and our governor don’t consider themselves role models, or they would require masks and social distancing at the capitol. Also, their policies would protect students and educators by allowing local decision making.

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It's time for some soul searching

Bruce Lear considers what Republicans and Democrats need to reflect on as the Donald Trump presidency draws to a close. -promoted by Laura Belin

The plus-sized person began tapping on the mike in the wee hours of November 3. She broke into full-throated song on Saturday, November 7, when enough of the swing states had been called for Joe Biden.

But even after state and federal courts rejected more than 50 lawsuits, and recounts, audits, and more recounts confirmed Biden carried enough states to win the electoral college, about 30 percent of Americans still can’t wrap their mind around the fact that Donald Trump lost.

But it’s over.

Time for both the elephant and donkey to do some real soul searching.

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Messaging matters in political campaigns

Bruce Lear: Iowa Democrats trying to appeal to independent voters fell victim to messaging from safe Democratic districts, where slogans only have to appeal to one party. -promoted by Laura Belin

Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Democratic strategists should read and re-read this quote before every campaign.

The election corpse isn’t cold and the autopsy knives are sharpened and poised to attack. What happened in Iowa? I’ve no ambitions to become a full-time paid pundit, but here are some thoughts.

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Voices from the classroom

Bruce Lear spoke to nine educators about the challenges of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. -promoted by Laura Belin

Some have compared teaching in 2020 to flying a plane while it’s being built. But that’s only true if the plane lacks basic safety equipment like seat belts and parachutes, or basic amenities like beverages and working restrooms because the airplane construction budget is woefully inadequate.

Public schools are struggling, and it is time to listen to teachers.

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An unfortunate October surprise

Bruce Lear: History won’t be kind to Donald Trump’s COVID cruise and his unmasked grim reality show during a pandemic. -promoted by Laura Belin

President Donald Trump was whisked away by helicopter from the White House lawn to Walter Reed Hospital to undergo treatment for COVID-19. It happened on live TV, and the American public met the news with an outpouring of concern and best wishes.

Trump responded with reckless contempt. For a long weekend in October, America seemed less like a superpower and more like an emerging dictatorship led by a man who cares more about public relations than protection.

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When pretending isn't fun

Bruce Lear explores the layers of pretense that have hampered our national, statewide, and local efforts to combat COVID-19. -promoted by Laura Belin

We love to pretend. We dress up at Halloween. We pretend there’s a Santa Claus, an Easter Bunny, and when one of our kids loses a tooth, we pretend to be the tooth fairy. It’s all in good fun, and it’s all for the pure joy of doing it.

But pretending isn’t always fun.

When American politicians at all levels exchanged pretending and pandering in a pandemic for leading, it’s deadly. Although hind sight is always 20/20, here are some examples of where our leaders surrendered to pretending.

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Musical chairs and other bad ideas during a pandemic

Bruce Lear: The drive to throw the schoolhouse door open, even in coronavirus “hot zones,” has spawned some terrible ideas. -promoted by Laura Belin

In sports we call them unforced errors. In normal life we call them missteps. But in a pandemic, we call them deadly and foolish.

Unfortunately, the drive to throw the schoolhouse door open for business five days a week, eight hours a day, even in coronavirus “hot zones,” has spawned some terrible ideas in the name of trying to pretend, “I’m OK, You’re OK.”

Iowa is not OK.

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It’s time for the education and medical communities to unite

Bruce Lear proposes several ways Iowa’s doctors and teachers could cooperate to advocate for safe conditions in schools. -promoted by Laura Belin

It’s been a summer ride. First, there was a tingle of unease. Then there were questions, and more questions, left unanswered. Later, the Iowa Department of Education issued a vague, incomplete statement. Finally, the governor issued a proclamation filled with hype instead of hope. It was the summer of angst for parents and for educators.

Now, it’s time to stop defining the problem and start trying to solve it.

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An open letter to Governor Kim Reynolds

Bruce Lear responds to Governor Kim Reynolds’ recent open letter to Iowans, enclosed in full at the end of this post. -promoted by Laura Belin

Dear Governor Reynolds,

Thank you for your letter to all Iowans. I thought I’d take a minute to respond, certainly not for all Iowans, but for one very concerned citizen.

The theme of your letter seems to be that we are all in this together. We are. But there are different levels of “together.” It’s a lot like the old story of the chicken and the pig asked to contribute to breakfast. The chicken drops off her contribution and leaves, and the pig sacrifices everything.

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Taking advantage of a disaster

Bruce Lear: Some Republicans are using difficult decisions about reopening schools during a pandemic to justify redirecting public funds toward education vouchers. -promoted by Laura Belin

One of the inevitable consequences of any disaster are scam artists who prey on the vulnerable. This pandemic is no exception.  There have been scams from surefire cures for COVID-19 peddled by medical hucksters to clever crooks plotting to steal stimulus checks.

Now comes yet another scam, only this time victim is public education, and the scam artists aren’t shadowy figures no one knows. Instead, these are federal and state Republican office holders, trying to use a pandemic as cover for ripping off public money to use for private schools for vouchers.

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It's time for Iowa schools to step up

Bruce Lear: To ease the worry of parents, educators, and students, public school districts must clearly communicate how they plan to slow the spread of COVID-19. -promoted by Laura Belin

In a normal year, after the Fourth of July, elementary teachers start to knock on the schoolhouse door so they can organize their classrooms to get ready for a new batch of kids. At about the same time, middle and secondary teachers start thinking about their class lists, and some ideas about new ways to deliver old instruction.

But this year isn’t normal.

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Denial is not a strategy for opening Iowa schools

Bruce Lear on what’s missing and what’s problematic in the Iowa Department of Education’s new guidelines for schools to reopen in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. -promoted by Laura Belin

Americans love to pretend. We dress up like our favorite character on Halloween. We tell our children about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But we can’t afford to pretend when a pandemic is sweeping across the globe.

The Iowa Department of Education issued guidance on June 25 for returning to school. The document pretends everything is normal, and offers only political guidance for the reopening of Iowa’s public schools.

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Return to Learn: Voices from the classroom

Bruce Lear talked with ten Iowa teachers and counselors about how schools should adapt to teach kids safely and effectively despite COVID-19. -promoted by Laura Belin

It’s hard to decide what song best captures the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Is it “Eve of Destruction,” or “Don’t worry be Happy,” or maybe the Fleetwood Mac classic “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow?” No matter the choice, the fall start to school is beginning to loom large in the minds of students, parents, and educators.

Pre COVID-19, those ads for back-to-school supplies in late June or early July would start a little tingle of anticipation in the hearts and minds of students and educators. Now, for many, that tingle is replaced with full-blown anxiety.

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Celebrating teachers through actions

Bruce Lear: Teachers need support from policy-makers, and public schools need federal assistance in order to guarantee a safe and healthy environment for children in the fall. -promoted by Laura Belin

Teaching and singing the national anthem have a few things in common. Both are really hard to do, and someone who knows how can make it look easy enough for anyone to do it. But not everyone can.

If you don’t believe me, try remembering where those bombs burst, and try hitting that high note on key at the end. It’s not easy, just like parents forced to teach at home are discovering about teaching even one or two kids.

Yes, real teaching is really hard.

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Dumb stuff during a pandemic

Bruce Lear: “America is waking up to yet another harmful condition that seems to be infecting the country. I’m afraid it’s a disease with no vaccine.” -promoted by Laura Belin

One of the baffling things about COVID-19 is the symptoms vary from person to person. One person may have few respiratory symptoms but will lose the senses of taste and smell. Others may have a severe head ache and stomach issues. Still others have severe breathing problems, a high fever, and need to be rushed to an emergency room.

Now, America is waking up to yet another harmful condition that seems to be infecting the country. In medical terms it might be called “Intellectualimbacility.” I’ll just call it, “Dumb stuff during a pandemic.”

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Easter story, pandemic story share common themes

Bruce Lear reflects on signs of hope and denial brought on by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. -promoted by Laura Belin

Christians just celebrated Easter with a big helping of ham and social distancing. For Christians, the Easter season story is about both hope and denial. The pandemic season story shares the same two themes.

Nurses and doctors, and EMTs give us hope that not all Easter seasons will require a ventilator, and a hunt for personal protective equipment (PPE) instead of the bright colored surprises the Easter bunny leaves. These people are risking their lives and the lives of their families to treat as many sick people under horrendous conditions to give hope a chance.

But the highly trained medical people are not the only hope heroes.

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Iowa needs level playing field for collective bargaining

Bruce Lear connects the dots on how state funding for public education plays into contract talks between administrators and the teachers union. -promoted by Laura Belin

For weeks, the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate and the Republican-controlled Iowa House debated whether public schools should get punched in the stomach or punched in the face. Both will hurt. Both will leave a mark.

There is no doubt the 2.5 percent increase in state funding for public schools, proposed by Governor Kim Reynolds and the House, as well as the 2.1 percent increase favored by the Senate were woefully low. That funding won’t match rising costs for school districts, no matter what contortions the Republican party goes through.  In the end, the punch came right to the face from both chambers when legislators agreed to split the difference: a 2.3 percent increase in State Supplemental Aid.

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Lessons from a fight

Bruce Lear questions whether President Donald Trump has thought through his approach to Iran. -promoted by Laura Belin

It was an Iowa night thick with humidity and lightning bugs.  We’d gathered in a vacant lot to test our virgin manhood.  I was 13 years old, and I was standing in a circle of friends watching as each skinny armed boy tied on overweight boxing gloves and met his opponent in the center of the circle.

No referee.  No adult.  Just a whole lot of testosterone mingling with nervous adolescent sweat.

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Binge-watching West Wing and why I support Joe Biden

Bruce Lear: The first step to healing is to elect a healer in chief who will return the White House to normal while fixing what this president has destroyed. -promoted by Laura Belin

I know we just finished a full season of Hallmark Christmas movies written to keep the Kleenex industry in business. But for a political nerd, the big-city girl coming home to find Christmas love with the flannel shirted, widowed, veterinarian just doesn’t cut it.

For me, I get emotional when I binge watch a president who never was, in a political world that I wish existed.  That’s why I recently binge-watched all seven seasons of the West Wing.

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No crystal ball needed to predict Iowa legislative moves

Bruce Lear predicts five ways the Republican-controlled legislature may impact public schools and educators this year. -promoted by Laura Belin

There’s no need for a crystal ball, Tarot cards, or tea leaves to predict some of the public education moves the Iowa legislature may likely make during the 2020 session.

But educators need to do more than hold their collective breaths until the legislature adjourns in April or May.  Hope is not a strategy. Here are some thoughts on what might happen. To prevent these predictions from becoming a reality, educators will need to team up with community members and use their teacher voices to protect the profession.

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Reaching rural America

Bruce Lear suggests a Democratic message resting on “four pillars that sustain small towns.” -promoted by Laura Belin

When I was a kid, my mom always warned, “Keep a screen door between you and the Fuller Brush Man.” Back in the day, Fuller Brush salesmen were mobile carnival barkers. They would literally get a foot in the door and then grow roots on the couch until Mom gave up and bought something.

They were fast talkers.

They weren’t from around here.

I am afraid that too many candidates now treat rural America like the Fuller Brush man of old. They barnstorm a small community without ever stopping to hear what makes the heart of rural America beat.

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Virus-free school board members

Hundreds of Iowans won school board elections last week. Bruce Lear has ideas on how to combat some pitfalls that may await them. -promoted by Laura Belin

Since that cold day in 2017 when Republicans demolished public sector collective bargaining in Iowa, our kids and our educators have needed independent thinking school board members more than ever. But how can independent thinking candidates stay that way after being elected?

I have often marveled at the transformation of some candidates when they begin sitting around the board table. The once feisty crusader becomes as timid as a Donald Trump cabinet member. What happens?

There are at least three kinds of viruses that may threaten independent thinking on a school board. Fortunately, if the virus is caught early enough, the board member can be safely inoculated.

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