Dorman: An authoritarian push to ban books and punish teachers


HR King
May 29, 2001
Will book burnings be next?:

Next year, don’t be surprised if you receive a mailer from a Republican lawmaker or GOP candidate espousing their support for public schools. We’ve seen them in recent years, with happy photos of politicians posing in schools, talking to teachers. Heartwarming.

But they’ll probably leave out the part about wanting to put teachers and administrators in jail.

At least that’s the idea being pushed by GOP Senate President Jake Chapman. During a recent meeting of a committee reviewing books in the Johnston school district, and on social media, Chapman insisted some books offered in the high school library are obscene. He wants a bill that would create a felony offense for educators who permit the dissemination of this obscene material.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Zaun is also on board.

“My warning to all the teachers and the administrators is you’re going to be in jail. Because this is distributing pornography. And I will work my tail end off and it will become law,” Zaun told the committee, according to the conservative website The Iowa Standard.

Some of the books at issue are by LGBTQ authors sharing their difficult life experiences, hoping to help LGBTQ kids navigate their own lives. And yes, there are portions that discuss sex. Their target audience doesn’t include middle-aged white guys who serve under the Golden Dome of Wisdom.

Among the books at issue in three central Iowa school districts are “Lawn Boy,” a novel, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a memoir and “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel and memoir. Conservatives are also demanding the removal of “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie.

Chapman and his crusaders have cherry picked short segments from these much broader works of literature as proof they are obscene.

Never mind that Iowa’s obscenity law says material is obscene when “the material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, scientific, political or artistic value.” Clearly, that doesn’t apply to these books.

Iowa’s obscenity law also exempts public libraries and educational institutions.

Lawmakers shocked, shocked by stuff that offends them is hardly new. Back in 1993, lawmakers and Gov. Terry Branstad blew a gasket when they found out a “homoerotic” German film was being shown at the University of Iowa. UI administrators sought to ban the film amid the outcry, but the Iowa Attorney General’s Office argued a ban would violate the First Amendment.

Sadly, book banning is as American as racism and demonizing immigrants.

But this new salvo in the culture wars is different. It’s hateful, vengeful and authoritarian. These lawmakers are essentially demanding that educators adopt their rigid worldview and antique understanding of human sexuality or maybe go to prison.

This sounds more like the World War I proclamation threatening to throw Iowans in jail for speaking German, among the darkest chapters in Iowa history.

But it checks two boxes on the national Red State Trailblazer to-do list.

It gives conservative lawmakers a chance to continue trashing LGBTQ Iowans, transgender kids in particular. Lawmakers have already prohibited public funded health insurance from paying for the medical needs of transgender Iowans. They’ve also filed numerous anti-transgender bills, including legislation barring transgender girls from playing sports, preventing the discussion of gender identity in classrooms and removing gender identity as a protected class in the Civil Rights Code.

So far, facing pressure from the state’s business community, which knows making Iowa an LGBTQ pariah state is bad for business, Republicans have held off on passing these bills. But in 2022, with an election looming, not even big business may be able to curb lawmakers’ passion to heap reckless derision on their fellow Iowans for political gain.

Second, they get to continue smearing public education.

Teachers apparently were making too much money, had good benefits and, worst of all, tend to support Democrats. So Republicans shredded their ability to collectively bargain.

Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican lawmakers yanked away schools’ local authority to deal with the pandemic and turned down federal money for testing. They championed legislation restricting the content of diversity curriculum, hoping to scare educators into avoiding lessons on the systemic racism that still plagues our nation and the history of slavery and discrimination that shaped our nation.

Reynolds cited “failing schools” when she called for giving state-funded vouchers to parents who want to leave public schools. She’s the first governor in decades with no agenda for improving public schools.

Republicans have pressured university professors to toe the political line or potentially face legislation eliminating tenure. Professors who are too outspoken might draw the ire of lawmakers. Ames school officials were called before the House Oversight Committee where outraged Republicans demanded they explain a one-week Black Lives Matter curriculum.

The times conservatives have accused schools of “indoctrination” are too numerous to count.

Book banning, threatening to throw teachers in jail, using state power to punish a minority group and undermining the public education system are not the sort of actions you would expect from democratic institutions. Instead, our institutions are being used to impose one unyielding political and cultural perspective through lousy laws, disinformation and intimidation.

Don’t like it? Leave. Or maybe go to jail.

The Iowa I’ve known my whole life is in a deep coma. We’ve got to wake up.