Public school teachers are like families, and in Iowa they’re under attack

Teachers and supporters protesting in Des Moines in 2017.

Educators who teach in public school buildings are immediate families, and other district staff are parents. The immediate family has different jobs and has different levels of skills and training. There are disagreements, skirmishes and even fights. But when attacked from the outside, immediate family and all loved ones unite to fight.

Public schools are under attack.

The attack takes place on two fronts. First, the Iowa legislature has been passed and the governor has signed two laws that will impact many educators.

Although the so-called concept of division law was supposed to ban talking about systemic racism in government diversity training, it has expanded to include public schools and university programs.

While this poorly drafted law may not do what was intended, it opens the door for small groups of radical parents to scream enough for administrators to exaggerate and censor meaningful classroom content.

The second act was an amendment to the Education Appropriations Bill that allows a small percentage of voters in the last school board election the right to ask the school board for a hearing on any matter of concern, including the content of the program. Until the board can hold the hearing, this program is on hold.

But this is not the only front of attack against the public school curriculum. Groups like “No Left Turn” and “Ames Can Do Better” have formed to try to pressure school boards to change what is taught.

There is nothing wrong with groups forming to influence elections. What is wrong is that candidates hide their agendas and refuse to acknowledge that they belong to a particular group.

So what can the family do with education?

First, school administrators need to stand behind the teachers. Parents must be listened to, but also teachers and experts in a particular field. Parents are partners in education. These are not customers who are always right.

If there are any complaints, I suggest a meeting where the parents and the whole department sit down and discuss the curriculum issue. It is not fair to choose a teacher for an attack. The curriculum is a decision of the department, so the department has a stake in the outcome. I am also not talking about a meeting where parents let off steam and teachers are prohibited from responding. These meetings are worthless.

In addition, school boards will need a policy on the handling of these hearings. If this is a program issue, the first step is to insist on this ministerial meeting with parents. That way the board hears both sides.

The second step before removing a program is to insist that parents show how it specifically violates the law. This law is open to many interpretations.

Teachers are the best ambassadors to stop rumors. If a teacher overhears a community member asserting that teaching systemic racism somehow implies that all white people are racist, that rumor needs to be refuted with facts.

Second, teachers must teach what they know to be true on the basis of facts. Let students draw their own conclusions by asking open-ended questions such as:

• Why do you think this happened? What made this person think so? If you were there, what would you have done? How could the outcome change?

• If you are uncomfortable, let’s discuss the reasons for the discomfort with what we have learned?

The new law does not prohibit discussion. Students can draw conclusions and think for themselves.

As the song says, “We are a family”. It is in the best interest of the community to have a public school system that does not fool students about the truth and explode with constant complaints.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and retired after 38 years in public schools.

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