Letters: Censoring books won’t end well

Censoring books won’t end well

Censorship by a minority of citizens who feel that they can determine the educational resources and subject matter to be made available to the majority seems to run in direct conflict with the First Amendment. Further, couching censorship efforts in terms such as “freedom,” “liberty,” “patriot,” “parental freedom” and “woke agenda” is still simply censorship that poses a serious threat to every citizen.

Having groups of people targeting books and educational teachings simply because it conflicts with their personal beliefs should cause all citizens to pause and consider where these actions can lead. Tolerating difference of opinions is the true foundation of a free society.

Proposals to censor books could allow one parent in one school district in the state to dictate which books are banned statewide in our schools. Is this how democracy works?

Creating vague laws directing what can be taught and how it can be taught leads to fear of prosecution among educators, creating a stunted curriculum and a distorted world view for our children going forward. Labeling public education as “indoctrination” as well as stating that libraries have a “leftist woke agenda” is appalling.

Can anyone point to a positive outcome at any time in history anywhere in the world when freedom of thought is suppressed and books are banned?

— Rick Tierney, West Des Moines

Books don’t corrupt

As an English teacher of 35 years, I never designed a lesson plan around a piece of literature just because it had controversial topics or themes. However, if those themes and topics emerged during a discussion, we confronted them. Apparently, students are more mature than the lawmakers in this state, including our overnor, to handle those discussions.

Regarding the LGTBQ literature circus, no book on a library shelf has ever indoctrinated or corrupted a student. No teacher I know created a lesson plan specifically designed to indoctrinate anything, including LGTBQ, based on a book. If students are corrupted or indoctrinated, it is because they spent hours online during lockdown or hybrid independently unsupervised researching social justice and gender identity instead of doing homework.

I know this because I was told this directly by my students.

Should parents have a voice in education? YES! They always have. In fact, most teachers have sent out permission letters before reading a sensitive book, offering alternatives, or watching a sensitive but relevant movie. The classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” has already been removed from most school curriculums. Are a teacher’s daily lessons rigidly set? NO. They are fluid based on the students and their professional observations.

The lawmakers in this state are clearly obtuse about education. They know nothing about education curriculum, nor do they give a fig about it, and the only reason lawmakers currently give a fig about it is that it gets sexy attention and gets votes to stay in power. Please, Iowa lawmakers, shut up and do the actual job you were elected to do, stay out of education or get out of office.

— Steven C. Woolery, Ames

Treat water quality assertions skeptically

Wow! Who knew that Iowa waters were so good? Thanks to Shawn Richmond of the Farm Bureau and Michael Castellano of Iowa State University for clarifying the success of efforts to improve our waters (Feb. 12). They certainly seem to contradict a lot of other research on our soil and nutrient loss. The author seems especially proud of progress on phosphorus reduction. We all look forward to less algae in our lakes, reservoirs and ponds this next year and in the future. In the past spring rains have released a lot of nitrogen from our soil. I am sure we all look forward to better numbers this spring than in the recent past. Thanks to all the farmers who have planted cover crops, grass waterways, buffers and CRP acres. Thanks also for those land-owners who have built terraces and catchment ponds. Maybe we can work our way back to the effective land cover and better water quality like we had back in the early 80s.

— Mike Delaney, Windsor Heights

Excerpts are just that

On Feb. 6, the Iowa House Government Oversight committee asked five members of the right-wing group “Moms for Liberty” to give testimony on their efforts to ban books from Iowa schools. They read brief excerpts from books they deemed offensive. Four days before that, at a Moms for Liberty forum attended by Gov. Kim Reynolds, she suggested that books removed from one school should be removed from all schools in the state.

More:Kim Reynolds' bill: Library book 'removal list,' gender identity teaching ban. What to know

Herewith is an excerpt that could be seen as inappropriate for school-age children: “How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince’s daughter! The joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman. Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like a heap of wheat, set about with lilies. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins. … This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes. I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as the clusters of the vine.”

Based on the reasoning of the Moms for Liberty, this passage from the Song of Songs would serve as cause to ban the Bible from Iowa’s public schools.

— David Duer, Iowa City

Learning is out

Until today the wisdom of the Republican plan for public schools was not clear to me. Now I think I understand. Underfund public schools so they become ineffective. Then restrict their ability to sell bonds to improve their facilities. Then empty the libraries so the students have nothing good to read. Finally, make child labor OK again.

So now kids will leave school because it’s boring and there is nothing to read. They are then available to work and thereby perform their real function in life. Which is to increase shareholder value.

Brilliant, and it brings Iowa one step closer to the Libertarian utopia envisioned by the Koch brothers.

— Scott Byram, Iowa City

Reining in government spending would benefit us all

I recently ran across a letter from a relative that really made our federal spending habits hit home. Below is a quote from the end of this letter:

“A Congress like the last one would be bankrupt in any other land. They spend millions like it is paper money. The richness & size of the nation alone makes one fearful of the way money is handled. It is high time that we become more conservative in fiscal matters. Enough about politics!”

What makes this strike home is that this letter was written Sept. 5, 1866. Yes, 1866! This young man had just finished fighting in the Civil War. Here we are 156 years later, and nothing has changed, except the numbers are bigger.

I'm sure Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy will eventually come to some agreement to remove a few dollars from the trillion-dollar debacle, giving the Republicans a moral victory that we reduced the spending. But our nation's debt will still continue to climb, and congress will agree to some increase in the debt ceiling. When will Congress say NO to increased spending? When will we look at what it costs to run the agencies, bureaus, departments, etc with the federal government?

As I have always maintained, the federal government is the largest business in the world, and if we ran it more like a business, we would spend time looking for ways to reduce operating costs without reducing programing. With over 2 million people employed by the federal government, we have opportunities to reduce costs.

— Roger Helmrichs, Dundee

Child labor bill has problems

I was at the subcommittee hearing on Senate File 167, on child labor, as a lobbyist for the Iowa United Professionals/United Electrical Workers, but I kept thinking back on my own experience. My father was a self-employed carpenter, and he started me in the trade when I was 12. He first suggested it when I was 11 but I told him that I didn’t think I was done playing yet. He laughed and gave me another year. (If I could make him laugh, I could get away with anything).

It was a good experience working with my Dad and my brothers, and it stood me in good stead when I was a Seabee in Vietnam. But I still have reservations about the child labor bill. I recall my father telling me that I would never have another boss who cared more about me than the business. I could see the truth in that in the portion of the bill that frees the businesses from any liability for injuries, even through the negligence of the business. Having liability isn’t as good a protection as a father’s love, but it is important, and the lack of it shows a troubling indifference.

We have other ways of increasing the workforce. We can raise the minimum wage, have a rational immigration policy, support our public schools so we can rise from the mediocre middle to the top again, and we can have an unemployment policy that doesn’t drive away workers who go from construction job to construction job. We can do other things. We don’t have to throw children in the breach.

— Karl Schilling, Des Moines

Things actually aren’t going that well in schools

Des Moines school board chair Teree Caldwell-Johnson seems to think no one but teachers and school boards can decide what to teach our children. To quote her on Feb. 13: "We don't need your interventions around curriculum, what we teach, how we teach, who we teach." She follows with, "We have been in existence for 116 years and we've been doing pretty darn well."

It seems she wants to ignore the fact that Iowa no longer has one of the best education systems in the nation for several years.

Her suggestion that no one else should intervene in how schools should teach seems to ignore parents as well as state government. Mothers and fathers nationwide have been called "domestic terrorists" for demanding changes in how our children are being taught. A right they deserve. It is no surprise that people are elected in our state with the hope they will offer guidelines to our school systems to reflect what parents want for their children.

— Graham Fee, Knoxville

Republicans abhor any deviation from ‘normal’

There is so much I would rather be doing with my time this morning than writing a letter to the editor about Gov. Kim Reynolds’ and legislators’ proposals for book removals and bans on teaching about gender identity in public schools (e.g., House File 8, Senate File 83). But because state Republicans have said this is among their “top priorities” and have been dangerously effective at rolling back any of the frustratingly small gains made for more inclusive classrooms and safe schools over the years, here we are.

I am the proud mom of a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old. I am a former teacher. I have a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction. From personal and professional experience, I can tell you that these proposed bills are horrifying. They fly in the face of best practice and research. Short story: Learning about gender expression or sexual orientation or gender identity doesn’t make someone non-binary or queer or transgender. It does, however, decrease bullying and suicide.

Hard to believe any Republican would come out as pro-bullying and pro-suicide, but that’s the real-world impact of their bills. In addition, the logistical impossibility of these proposals reveal their true aim. There is no way for kids not to learn about gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation in schools because — spoiler alert! — human beings go to school. Kids learn about pronouns the minute they start speaking to other people. They learn about gender identity in any story that involves a person. They learn about sexual orientation the moment they watch Anna and Kristoff kiss at the end of “Frozen.” They learn about gender expression every day when they feel comfortable in the clothes their family has provided — or not.

If applied with fidelity, the proposed bans should mean that anything referencing anything to do with gender has no place in elementary schools. Are they ready to enforce some sort of gender-less dress code for schools? Make all school staff to remove wedding rings and take down any pictures of their family? Punish kids for mentioning what they did with their mom and dad over the weekend? Take out any book that genders any people or animals or trucks? I hope we don’t have a state legislator who can’t wait for kids to sit silently on a rug in burlap sacks listening to a robot read the 65th book about rocks this year.

I think what they really mean is that, despite science and reality, they want kids to learn that the only normal or right way to be is cisgender boys and girls in heterosexual relationships. What makes this all even more infuriating is that, because of vouchers, the parents who want that for their kids can use public money to send them to the Christian private schools that teach that baseless bigotry with no shame.

Look, as much as many Republicans may hate to admit it, we live in a pluralist, diverse democracy. Queer people exist. Heterosexual people exist. Boys exist. Girls exist. Trans people exist. Non-binary people exist. Get. Over. It.

I don’t expect any legislators to read this and change their mind. But I do expect my fellow cisgender, heterosexual moms and dads to join the fight so that it does not fall on already exhausted and vulnerable queer and trans people, especially youth, to figure out how to end this nightmare. Support groups like One Iowa and Iowa Queer Communities of Color Coalition. Buy books explicitly teaching a science-based, inclusive understanding of gender or stories by LGBTQIA+ authors at local bookstores like Reading in Public and Storyhouse Bookpub. Give them as gifts, read them to your kids, leave them in those little public libraries.

Find out if your local school has a GSA and ask them how you can help. If a “Don’t Say Gay” law passes, which I expect it will, show up at every school board meeting. When teachers and school leaders find the courage to disobey these laws because they know they hurt kids, shower them with public admiration and tokens of appreciation. File lawsuits. Pressure your employer to publicly take a stand because all of this definitely makes recruiting a more diverse workforce a lot harder. Fund after-school programs not in the reach of state laws that teach children the truth about their communities. Talk to your friends and family who don’t understand why this is so scary. And get out the vote for school board and state legislative candidates who will shut this down.

Don’t forget, all of this is happening with race and ethnicity, too. Our kids deserve so, so much better than what this governor and legislature are doing and undoing. We cannot let this continue.

— Katy Swalwell, Des Moines

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Letters: Censoring books won’t end well