Letter to the editor: Give your anti-sex censorship a break, Jake

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State Sen. Jake Chapman spoke Thursday night at a Johnston Community School District reconsideration committee meeting for the books "The Hate You Give" and "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian."


To the editor:

Last night a meeting was held in Johnston, where parents challenged two books that teachers were using as part of the curriculum.

Following the meeting, Sen. Jake Chapman posted on Facebook that he intended to introduce a bill that would amend a section of the Iowa Code that deals with the distribution of obscene materials and that would make it a felony for teachers to use any book that meets the definition (for the record, none of the books in question would meet the standards that courts have followed).

A longtime teacher contacted me and asked me to post the letter below that they wrote in response to Sen. Chapman. The teacher has experience at every grade level and has an MA. They asked me to publish the letter anonymously so that they wouldn’t face possible disciplinary action in their current district.

Randy Richardson
Des Moines
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Dear Sen. Chapman,

Can you just . . . not?

I read “1984” by George Orwell in my high school literature class. Orwell’s telling of an authoritarian dystopia changed my life. Not because of the doublespeak or punitive enforcement of traditional values but because it was the first book that I read where there wasn’t a happy ending. The hero (spoiler alert) didn’t take down the state. Instead, he embraced it.

One of the scenes in the book tells how the two main characters, who were not allowed to be romantically involved by Big Brother, go to a field where they believe that they are away from Big Brother’s prying eyes and make love. The book doesn’t give any details, but after seeing your crusade on books with “inappropriate content,” I am convinced that “1984” would fall in that category if it isn’t already at the top of the list.

I’m not going to try to appeal to your logic or your ethics. Instead, I’m going to try to appeal to your empathy if there is any remaining.

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but teachers are not okay right now. We haven’t been for a while, but I sincerely believe we’re at a breaking point. Every year there is more and more put on the backs of schools, and every year we have taken it in stride. Last year we even changed everything on how we taught in an instant.

We did all this while you stripped us of our collective bargaining, ostracized us for teaching Critical Race Theory (which, by the way, is not actually happening) and paved the way for our state to bring in substandard charter schools run by corporate entities that pay teachers an average of 15% less than public school teachers.

You have beaten us senseless, but we’re still in the fight because the kids are worth it. I don’t blame the teachers, bus drivers, associates and substitute teachers that have left in droves because we are not getting any support from our state legislature.

And now, instead of providing any help, your next big task is to burn books in the name of firing up your base. You have lobbed attack after attack when all we’re trying to do is teach our students to be decent human beings and prepare them for the next step.

So I ask you, as a tired teacher who needs a nap and in order to stop being labeled as Public Enemy Number One, I humbly ask you: Can you just . . . not?

Editor’s note: According to Sen. Chapman’s Facebook post, “These are teachers of Johnston School District who are defending the distribution of what I believe to be obscene material and what I believe to be in violation of state law. These are also our so called ‘mandatory reporters.’ Our schools should be one of the safest environments, it’s for that reason I have legislation being drafted to create a new felony offense under Iowa Code 728. There will also be additional mechanisms to force prosecutions or allow civil remedies.”

In another post, Chapman said, “Parents are fed up with being dictated to by the left! From mask mandates to critical race theory to sexually explicit material being disseminated to students . . . enough is enough.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. Sen. Chapman appears to have appointed himself the moral arbiter of Iowa. He’s announced he will determine for all of us what is acceptable for our children to read and what is not. No thanks, Senator.

    Tonight I had a wonderful conversation with my 15-year-old granddaughter, who was horrified at Chapman’s remarks, which she saw on social media. He indicated a willingness to criminalize teachers who expose students to the world as it is through diverse and realistic reading materials.

    She and I have both read “The Hate U Give,” a novel Chapman found to be offensive. It’s about racism and the intersection of cultures. Both my book club of older women in rural Iowa AND my granddaughter attending a suburban HS near Des Moines thought the compelling story was a wonderful example of how a book can reveal life experiences other than our own and expand our understanding of the world as it is.

    It is ridiculous to attempt to hide reality from our children. And furthermore, why on earth would we want to?

  2. This is not a matter of censorship. It’s one of parental consent. Whether or not children are exposed to anything deemed questionable (including every book mentioned in the Register story and this editorial) is one ONLY for parents to decide. The issue is that parents are not aware these books are even in our school libraries let alone being actively pushed onto our children. I believe most parents would be okay with these book in the library as long as they have the CHOICE to NOT have THEIR children exposed to the material. The issue is that some teachers and administrators have deemed themselves smarter than parents and forced this questionable material on our children.

    Yes, this will take parents being involved in the curriculum. But more importantly, it will take open and honest communication from educators that this material is being introduced with a window for parents to opt-out.

    In response to the previous comment, why “hide reality from our children”? Your “reality” is not mine and is not my neighbors. Teaching our children “reality” is the sole responsibility of parents.

  3. First, they construct a mechanism to prohibit selected reading material, with a considerable threat to anyone within the proximity of those publications to destroy their lives permanently, with a felony potentially removing the offenders from voting rolls. Then they build a list of contraband publications that they can add to at will, without oversight. I don’t expect the number of entries in “the list” ever to be reduced or that the list will be confined only to books. Add in their fear of “the other” and an open distain for education, while hiding behind “think of the children.” (If they care so deeply about our children, can they explain their inaction after Sandy Hook?) They are creating a weapon intended to control, punish and silence a wide cross-section of their many perceived “liberal” enemies. We’ve all recently witnessed how poorly conservatives maintain control over their weaponry.

  4. Tim, honest question. What is in these books that is objectionable? I plan to read them. My wife is now. She has yet to find anything. As for deciding what your child reads, I disagree. If your child wants to read something, that’s typically wonderful. Talk to them about what they read. Talk to them about what you find troublesome. You might find they don’t. My 21-year-old wonderfully has a mind of her own. I’d encourage you to let yours see the world and make their own choices. Reality is reality. You can hide things from your children, but wouldn’t it be better to talk to them about your concerns? Reality will catch up to them eventually.

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