116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A new school year is in full swing, and changes are underway. One of those changes is that Iowa educators can no longer teach a child that they’re inherently evil or oppressed because of their sex or skin color.
If that last part furrows your brow a little bit, join the club.
In June, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law House File 802, which prohibits the teaching of “specific defined concepts” related to stereotyping or scapegoating based on a person’s race or sex. Many describe it as a ban on critical race theory, which posits that American institutions are inherently racist. It’s a fair assessment — the text of the bill itself prohibits teaching “that the United States of America and the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist.”
Like all closely watched bills signed by the governor, some were pleased. Others were … not. Des Moines East High School teacher Megan Geha was among the disgruntled, calling the legislation “ridiculous” and “bullsh*t” in a video posted to social media that went viral on conservative websites.
I’d prefer to give individuals like Geha the benefit of the doubt — l grow nervous when governments tell teachers what they should or shouldn’t teach, especially by prohibition or mandate.
But while dictating actions by passing laws concerns me, the now-prohibited concepts outlined in the new law horrify me. For example, the concept “[t]hat an individual, solely because of the individual's race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” or that “ … traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.”
To its credit, the new law (which I’ve read in its entirety, as with any state legislation I write about) also has provisions about what cannot be prohibited. It cannot prevent a school from embracing diversity and inclusiveness. It can’t restrict a student’s (or a teacher’s) First Amendment right to free expression, nor can it supplant discrimination laws.
Importantly, the new law cannot preclude teaching about historical events and customs such as slavery, segregation or suffrage. Not only may a teacher continue to teach about the stains on our history like the Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court case, but they can — and should — continue to examine the disgusting logic in the decision authored by Chief Justice Roger Taney.
Knowing that these important concepts are protected, I’m bothered by the outcry from teachers like Geha regarding those that are off limits from classroom instruction. It makes me wonder what their classroom instruction involved in the first place.
Were students actually being taught that their moral character is tied to their skin color? Were they being taught that the achievement of success by the application of talent and effort is inherently racist? Was classroom teaching so focused on outward physical characteristics that students were being encouraged to focus on a predetermined identity at the expense of their unique personality?
I certainly hope not. But if the identity-obsessed posturing from Geha extends beyond social media and into her classroom, which her own videos certainly suggest, perhaps her tirades aren’t so much a consequence of the law’s passing, but rather a catalyst for it. If big changes are in store for the Iowa classroom, perhaps that’s for the best.
Althea Cole is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org