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Iowa's Un-Woke School System
School Is Starting Back Today...It Isn't What It Used To Be
Today my grandsons are going back to school in Iowa. Here is a list of books that I was able to read as a young Iowa student (many years ago) that they are now denied the ability to read for themselves. This list is from Urbandale Public Schools.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Ulysses by James Joyce
As I Lay Down by William Faulkner
I honestly don’t remember anything about these novels that were so sexual that they created some sort of trauma or perversion. I remember reading these books with a sense of wonder and curiosity that caused me to want to read more. And I did.
Iowa SF 496
But my grandsons will not have access to these great pieces of literature because the Iowa “un-woke” legislature passed SF 496 which went into effect on July 1. These titles along with 61 others will no longer be available to students. These include books by outstanding authors such as Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Judy Blume, and others.
I was struck by a quote from author Neil Postman, certainly no supporter of book banning. He said of Huxley’s book, Brave New World:
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture.”
I fear that the things that Huxley feared are coming to pass in Iowa schools this fall. Students will be immersed in a curriculum of irrelevance, watered-down small ideas, ideologically driven right-wing vagaries, life-less stories of white-washed history, and mind-numbing vanilla-flavored lessons designed to help keep teachers out of legal peril.
It isn’t just banned books. Teachers can no longer talk about history or ideas that would make them feel “uncomfortable.” My grandsons will only be exposed to ideas that reinforce their natural white supremacy. They will not be allowed to learn about the origins and importance of racism in American society. They are white and our culture has already socialized them to be blind to that privilege and supremacy. Iowa schools will now reinforce this blindness. This is the first time that schools will no longer be able to expose students to thoughts, ideas, historical facts, and new perspectives that will challenge that default disposition. Watch the frequency of racial bullying rise in the coming years.
My grandsons will also not be able to hear about or learn about the fluidity of gender and that being “different” is okay and part of the broad umbrella of just being individual human beings. They will be taught that all human life must fit into a fabricated binary of male-female. They will implicitly be given permission to look down on and even bully those who fall outside of that binary. Just watch the incidents of LGBTQ or transgender bullying rise this year in Iowa schools.
Christian Nationalist School Systems
Ideas have consequences. The non-woke Iowa legislature is rushing as fast as it can to impose a Christian-based ideology and worldview on Iowa students. It isn’t enough that they are paying parents to send their kids to private Christian schools. They want to impose this narrow religious interpretation on the whole of society.
Let’s ask some Florida teachers about the influence of Christian Nationalism on the curriculum where they have had a head start over Iowa. These comments are related to the Civics Literacy Excellence Initiative. Teachers who have gone through “training” on these new standards commented:
“It was very skewed. There was a very strong Christian fundamentalist way of analyzing different quotes and different documents. That was concerning.”
“There was this Christian nationalism philosophy that was just baked into everything.”
Teachers at the Broward County training event reported that instructors pushed the Bible and Christianity in their comments. Attendees also said the focus appeared to be on retraining well-educated teachers in a different way of understanding history — a view favored by religious conservatives.
Make no mistake about where these ideas in Iowa are coming from because it is the same Christian Nationalist “think tanks” and Christian Colleges like Hillsdale that Florida is absorbing. Iowa is simply falling in line. Iowa public schools will begin to reflect the narrow-minded, parochial, bland, and conservative heavy curriculum that is usually taught in private schools.
The Iowa Legislature should at least be honest about what they are doing. They should require every school district in Iowa to include the phrase “Christian” in its name: Des Moines Public Christian School District, Urbandale Community Christian School District, etc.
Iowa SF 391
Then there is SF 391. This bill changes the minimum number of offerings for world languages for students in grades 9-12 from four courses down to two. Make Americanism great again!
According to 391, schools now only need to offer two units instead of three, of fine arts like dance, music, theater, or visual art. We certainly don’t want to have students expressing creative talent or impulses. We know where that will end up.
Then there is health education. Health classes must teach about communicable diseases but are not required to include instruction on HIV/AIDS. I wonder why that one is called out. While none of these topics or offerings are banned, they are no longer required.
Schools will no longer be required to submit Comprehensive School Improvement (CSI) plans to the Iowa Department of Education. In my former professional life, I was a consultant to Iowa schools in writing these plans. CSI Plans are something schools used to previously turn into the state to chart the path for improving student learning. They did this by reviewing data, setting goals, determining strategies to accomplish those goals, and then evaluating the results. They provided focus, guidance, and a basis for launching initiatives to improve the curriculum and teacher instructional capacity.
No more. Evidently, the Iowa “un-woke” Legislature isn’t interested in an evidence-based, problem-solving approach to improving student learning. Theirs is a culture-war approach that is interested in only one thing…conformity to a narrow Christian Nationalist vision of society. They believe that their culture-war, anti-woke agenda will magically improve student learning.
The Destruction of Iowa Schools
It is no coincidence that Iowa’s standing in the nation regarding education quality has dropped from a top-tier level to the mediocre middle. KCCI reported that Iowa schools were typically in the top 5 in the 1990s using several metrics of quality including test scores, graduation rates, and other data. But after several decades of Republican majorities in the statehouse, Iowa’s ranking has dropped to the mid-tier range.
If you go online and search "Best states for education," you'll find several national organizations ranking states by Pre-K-12th grade. World Population Review ranks Iowa at no. 13, Wallet Hub puts Iowa at no. 19, and US News and World Report, one of the most well-known organizations for education rankings, lists Iowa at no. 24. No more top-ten status for the Hawkeye state. And this fall from the top has happened before these draconian bills were passed.
Much of the reason for this is funding. Iowa used to be in the top tier of per-student funding. Iowa used to view public education funding as a top priority. But Iowa is falling behind when it comes to how much the state spends to educate each student. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Iowa spent more per pupil than the national average in the 1970s and 1980s. But by 1990, Iowa was $453 below the national average. By 2018-19, that shortfall grew to $1,254. Now, Iowa is siphoning public funds that would normally go to support public education into private school vouchers.
The Christian-Nationalist-Republican-led Iowa statehouse is determined to run Iowa public education into the ground. They have been doing it for several decades by cutting and denying funding. Now they are recreating the curriculum into something that will accelerate the decline of Iowa public schools.
True Parent Responsibility
It will be up to parents to teach their children the important skills of media literacy including; inquiry, search and research, critical thinking, analysis, evaluation, ethics and responsibility, and reflection and self-assessment, among others, using a rich array of classic and contemporary challenging literature.
Parents will need to teach an accurate and true understanding of American history including the atrocities of enslavement, racism, and colonial extermination of indigenous tribes. Parents will need to help their children understand the diversity of gender identity and that being different is not only okay but natural. Parents will need to make sure that their children do not learn the lessons of the Iowa un-woke curriculum: bigotry, parochialism, hyper-nationalism, and narrow-minded religious education.
The other option is to vote out the Christian Nationalists from the Iowa Senate and House. We will have that opportunity this fall. I can guarantee you that if the un-woke politicians are re-elected, they are only just getting started with the deconstruction of Iowa public schools. They believe they have much more work to do.