A wave of complaints primarily about the sexual content in the books in the Des Moines area public school library caused, for most observers, a few nods, but not much to say about it. ‘other.
Districts tend to have good processes for sorting out these things. And “How young is he too young?” Is a good question, even if those who ask it seem to have a very grim view of the maturity of adolescents and young children.
Things quickly got worse, especially with the threat from Iowa Senate Speaker Jake Chapman to jail librarians and other educators who made available books he found objectionable.
We differ fundamentally from Chapman in almost every aspect of this:
- When we run out of evidence to the contrary, we hope educators put the well-being of children first and resolve strong calls for free speech. Chapman considers them enemies of the people, poisoning young minds through negligence or malice.
- We see, in the clips read and shown at public meetings, frank discussions and, yes, depictions of sexual acts and sexual abuse. They are part of longer, award-winning stories relevant to the experiences of young people. Chapman sees works that appeal “to the lewd interest,” according to state law already in effect in books he says school employees can violate.
- We recognize that these books were purchased because children with uncertain support at home or elsewhere need assertive and honest literature, and they need it – in Chapman’s words – “in the most environment. sure where they should be: public schools “. Chapman appears to only see cartoons that “cannot be shown on the 5pm newspaper.”
Even if a problem were evident with school review processes – and, to be clear, there is not – revisions to an obscenity criminal law would be a hugely disproportionate response, as commentators l ‘have already underlined. It would be much more likely to deprive students of unimpressive literature and good teachers than to “protect” them in any way.
Public libraries serve everyone; the book ban is of little use
Parents told administrators and board members that children can be prepared for abuse by seeing graphic representations of sex and that some programs conflict with beliefs taught in homes. Educators are able to fairly assess these concerns and any evidence that supports them.
Journalists at the register and the Iowa Start Line news website published detailed explanations of the books’ history and messages. In most cases, the disputed books are available in high school libraries. Inclusion of a book in readings assigned to a class poses different questions, as does its presence in a middle or elementary school. Schools can already manage these distinctions competently.
Many of the excerpts that people have taken away deal with same-sex relationships. Perhaps the sex scenes on Chapman’s police watchlist will include the work of longtime Judy Blume, James Joyce, Iowan Jane Smiley, and many more. Either way, as we wrote three years ago when protesters fussed over LGBTQ material in the Orange City public library: “We should all be able to get down to business. agreement on a program of intellectual freedom and fair service and access. Public libraries should serve everyone: Black and white, rich and poor, religious and atheist. And yes, gay and straight. “
Author of the “1619 Project”: Give children the path to open-mindedness
It was a sign of our divided times on Monday night that, as journalist and author Nikole Hannah-Jones spoke at a Des Moines fundraising dinner on libraries as pillars of open access to ideas and opportunities, Iowa residents at two subway school board meetings were discussing removing books from school libraries and restricting programs to reflect “honest and patriotic education.”
Hannah-Jones, a Waterloo native and winner of a Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur “genius grant”, was here to accept the Iowa Author Award 2021 from the Des Moines Public Library Foundation.
Hannah-Jones edited The New York Times Magazine’s “Project 1619”, the title of which refers to the introduction of slavery to America. It is a collection of essays, photos, poems and other works that examine how slavery continues to shape our nation. She has also published a new book, “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” and a children’s book.
Hannah-Jones gives the Waterloo Public Library credit for opening up a world of reading, learning and opportunity for her that she could not have imagined as a child of working class parents. Her curiosity, voracious reading, and the increasingly difficult texts presented to her in high school by black studies teacher Ray Dial made her wonder why black history was absent from the rest of the curriculum.
She is proud of her roots in Iowa. The ideas she began to explore here launched a lifelong journey of questioning, inquiry and learning. She expressed dismay that in her home state, a bill was introduced in the last session of the Legislature to cut funding for any school district that was using “Project 1619” in its curriculum. . This bill was not passed, but another prohibited the teaching of certain concepts related to race and gender.
His message to school board members in the audience was emphasized: If the First Amendment’s protection of free speech makes sense, no government entity should ban books or ban the teaching of ideas just because someone doesn’t like them. Don’t deny the children of Iowa the path to an open mind.
Indeed, it was refreshing to hear several speakers make the point during a public comment period at the Urbandale school board meeting on Monday. (Also note: the board has given 12 speakers five minutes each to speak; Des Moines city council should try.)
The gravity of the free speech problem, however, shouldn’t stifle Chapman’s desire to smear educators and anyone else with a different outlook: “Neither should any decent person think it’s OK. “He said on Monday.
It’s time to stop bullying and demonizing teachers. It’s time for the people of Iowa, who have always valued their public schools, to rally with teachers and school districts.