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DES MOINES — A group of 26 Republican lawmakers wants Iowa’s public universities to explain themselves and their teacher training curriculum by defining a long list of terms plucked from course descriptions — like “compulsory heterosexuality,” “critical media literacy” and “equitable science teaching.”
The House education subcommittee on Wednesday passed House File 7 — introduced by Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, and 25 other Republican representatives like House Speaker Pat Grassley; House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl; Steve Holt, of Denison; and Thomas Gerhold, of Atkins.
It requires each of Iowa’s public universities — in consultation with its governing Board of Regents — to submit a report to the General Assembly by Feb. 27 defining “with specificity” a list individualized concepts and terms pulled from course summaries in each of their colleges of education.
“These were pulled from class titles or descriptions of the classes,” subcommittee chair Wheeler said, highlighting a few from the University of Iowa College of Education, including “diversity and identity in kindergarten through grade 12 education,” “culturally responsive classroom,” “anti-racist and anti-oppressive teaching and learning” and “queer identities at all levels of kindergarten through grade 12 education.”
“These are taxpayer dollars going to some of these different things,” Wheeler said. “When you look at these, you start to just honestly try and figure out what in the world do these even mean? So the purpose of this bill — it's not a witch hunt. It's just simply, we want some answers on how our taxpayer dollars are being used and what is going on in our teacher prep programs.”
The bill also would create an interim study committee to assess “program planning for degrees in the colleges of education of the institutions of higher education governed by the state Board of Regents and the curriculum necessary for completing a degree.”
The committee would include representatives and senators chosen by Republican leadership and it would be charged with submitting a final report with findings and policy change recommendations.
“I have grave concerns over the interim study committee and how it is currently designed,” Connie Ryan, executive director of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund, told lawmakers during Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting. “It is entirely possible that only members of the majority party will be on this interim study committee.”
Even more worrying, Ryan said, is the committee doesn’t include any “professionals.”
“Legislators are not necessarily professionals in curriculum. You're not necessarily professional educators,” she said, airing concerns and questions over those concepts the bill wants defined.
“I'm super confused about this legislation,” Ryan said. “I'm not sure exactly what we’re trying to accomplish. It feels like we are inferring that the teacher prep programs at the universities have some kind of agenda.”
Wheeler responded, “We as legislators are confused,” too.
“I tend to study some of the, I'll just call it, new age ideologies that are out there,” he said. “Some of these are quite interesting.”
Wheeler is among the 30-plus Republican lawmakers who recently introduced Iowa’s version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Bill” barring public school educators from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
Last year, Wheeler introduced the measure banning transgender athletes from competing in girls’ and women’s sports at Iowa schools and colleges.
On Wednesday, Wheeler said the phrases and concepts his bill demands explanation for were pulled from courses like UI’s “LGBTQ topics in education,” described as the examination of the “intersection of policy and practice with respect to queer identities at all levels of K-12 education; history of queerness in the U.S. with focus on the creation of the concept of compulsory heterosexuality and the manner in which this concept is reinforced in K-12 schools.”
Speaking in favor of the bill, Chuck Hurley — vice president and chief counsel for The Family Leader — said he also is curious about what's being taught across Iowa’s public universities, especially as it pertains to educators-in-training.
“I think the taxpayers have a right to more information,” he said. “I think it's clear to everybody who pays attention to our university education that there are some concepts that are probably running contrary to what I would say the majority of legislators now think is wise to advance Western civilization in a positive direction.”
Keenan Crow, director of policy and advocacy with One Iowa, asked what lawmakers plan to do with the information — once they receive definitions for the listed terms.
“Legislators generally don't ask administrators to report unless they intend to do something with that information in the future,” Crow said, highlighting some concepts in the bill they said “most people would agree” should be covered in teacher preparation.
“Things like, ‘recent trends in curriculum’ or ‘current models of curriculum development,’” they said. “Those things seem to me like things that we want educators to know about.”
Even asking administrators to report on those and other terms, according to Crow, “is going to have a chilling effect.”
“People are going to follow the path of least resistance,” they said. “So if you tell a group of administrators that if you teach about X, Y and Z you're going to have to file a report about it — and that there are no additional funds with which to create and compile said report — then administrators are going to discourage folks from teaching about X, Y and Z.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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