Reynolds’ latest idea to restrict school books would let the minority rule
Gov. Kim Reynolds suggested recently she wants to require all school districts to restrict a school book if one district does it. (Photo by Terry Vine/Getty Images)
A recent public opinion poll found that three-quarters of Americans want members of Congress to end their bickering and begin compromising more with their colleagues from the other party.
The poll was conducted across the United States by Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion for National Public Radio and the PBS News Hour.
If such a poll were conducted in Iowa, it’s my hunch the pollsters would find people here have similar views of the inability, or unwillingness, of senators and representatives in Washington to engage in the thoughtful give-and-take art of lawmaking.
It is also my hunch that Iowans are at a similar point with respect to the Legislature’s recent string of proposed laws that target our 327 public school districts.
That hunch jelled even before Gov. Kim Reynolds signaled last week where she may be headed next in her quest to transform public schools. Her new goal should bother freedom-loving moms and dads and others who understand what our Founding Fathers wanted when they established the United States — you know, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Reynolds addressed a gathering of a few hundred people at a forum organized by a national group called Moms for Liberty. The group advocates for changes in state laws to give parents more say in how public K-12 schools operate.
The governor said Iowa needs to “restore sanity, to make sure our schools are a place of learning and not indoctrination.”
She floated the idea of changing Iowa law so that if one school district decides to remove a book from its libraries or classrooms, then every other school district would be required to remove the same book and allow students to read it only with their parents’ permission.
The governor believes public school districts are dominated by “an extreme and extremely loud minority” who are hostile to parents’ values. She criticized public schools for “demonizing our country” and for having “an obsession with race in the classroom.”
It is important to note, however, that Reynolds did not cite specific examples to buttress her claims. It is also important to note that the demographics of Iowa’s school districts vary widely — from some that are made up of nearly all Caucasian kids, to some in which most students are not Caucasian, to others in which students come from families speaking dozens of languages are spoken at home.
Reynolds did not share with her audience how Iowa schools’ current book-review process works when complaints are made by people in the community or by students. That is important, because those decisions to keep, remove or restrict access to certain books involve committees of educators, students and ordinary citizens, and school superintendents and the school boards elected by voters ultimately are the final arbiters.
School districts also have policies in place now that allow parents to ask that their child not be given certain books for classroom assignments and not be allowed to check out certain books from the school libraries.
What is troubling about Reynolds’ latest proposal is that it would allow a handful of parents in one school to substitute their judgment for the book decisions that rightfully should be made by tens of thousands of other parents across Iowa. And the logistics of complying with such an ill-conceived law could quickly overwhelm teachers and administrators.
The idea of banning books runs counter to most people’s concept of freedom. It seems to be a practice more common in authoritarian countries, rather than the world’s leading democracy.
If there are books some parents do not want their own children reading, those parents already have a way to keep those books out of their kids’ hands at school. No one is trying to take that role away from parents. But those parents should not have veto power over the books that other parents are comfortable allowing their kids to read.
Many of those “comfortable” parents realize the internet has content accessible to anyone, including school kids, that is far more graphic and more offensive than anything students will find in their school library.
PEN America, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for free expression, issued a report last fall that said Texas schools banned more books from their libraries than any other state — 801 books in 22 school districts. Most of the books dealt with race, racism, abortion and LGBTQ topics.
Through history, officials have tried to ban access to such acclaimed titles as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s top executive, said in a statement issued with the banned-book report: “This censorious movement is turning our public schools into political battlegrounds, driving wedges within communities, forcing teachers and librarians from their jobs, and casting a chill over the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpin a flourishing democracy.”
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