116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Educators teaching in public school buildings are an immediate family, and the other district personnel are relatives. The immediate family performs different jobs, and have different degrees of skill and training. There are disagreements, skirmishes, and even fights. But when attacked from outside, the immediate family and all the relatives unite to fight.
Public schools are under attack.
The attack comes on two fronts. First, the Iowa Legislature passed and the governor signed two laws that will impact a lot of educators.
Although the so-called divisive-concept law was to ban talking about systemic racism in government diversity training, it expanded to include public schools and university curricula.
Although this poorly written law might not do what was intended, it does open the door for small groups of radical parents to scream enough so administrators overact and censor meaningful classroom content.
The second law was an amendment to the education appropriations bill that allows a small percentage of voters in the last school board election the right to petition the school board for a hearing about any area of concern, including curriculum content. Until the board can hold the hearing, that curriculum is on hold.
But that’s not the only front of attack on public school curriculum. Groups like the “No Left Turn” and “Ames can do Better” have formed to try and pressure school boards into altering the what is taught.
There’s nothing wrong with groups forming to influence elections. What is wrong is if candidates hide their agenda and refuse to acknowledge membership in a particular group.
So, what can the education family do?
First, school administrators need to have the backs of teachers. Parents should be listened to, but so should teachers and the experts in a particular field. Parents are partners in education. They are not customers who are always right.
If there are complaints, I’d suggest a meeting where the parents and the entire department sit down and talk through the curriculum issue. It’s not fair to single out one teacher for attack. The curriculum is a department decision, so the department has a stake in the outcome. I’m also not talking about a meeting where parents vent and teachers are forbidden to respond. Those meetings are worthless.
Also, school boards are going to need a policy on dealing with these hearings. If it’s a curriculum issue, the first step is to insist on that departmental meeting with parents. That way the board hears both sides.
The second step before removing any curriculum is to insist the parents show how it violates the law specifically. This law is open to many interpretations.
Teachers are the best ambassadors for stopping rumors. If a teacher hears someone from the community claim that teaching about systemic racism is somehow implying all white people are racist, that rumor needs to be called out with facts.
Secondly, teachers need to teach what they know to be true based in fact. Let students draw their own conclusions by asking open ended questions like:
• Why do you think that happened? What motivated that person to think that way? If you were there, what would have you done? How could the outcome change?
• If you are uncomfortable, let’s discuss the reasons for the discomfort with what we’ve learned?
The new law does not ban discussion. Students can draw conclusions and can think for themselves.
Like the song says, “We are Family.” It’s in the best interest of the community to have a public school system that doesn’t cheat students about the truth and that doesn’t explode because of constant complaint.
Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools.