Iowa: Criminalizing Books and Arresting Teachers and Librarians
The GOP controlled legislature in Iowa is proposing legislation that would throw teachers in jail for the books in their classrooms. “My warning to all the teachers and the administrators is you’re going to be in jail,” Zaun said.
The GOP controlled legislature in Iowa is proposing legislation that would throw teachers in jail for the books in their classrooms.
Senate President Jake Chapman believes that the books like “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie are inappropriate, so he is trying to create a new felony offense for educators. Sen. Brad Zaun, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also supports such a move.
“My warning to all the teachers and the administrators is you’re going to be in jail,” Zaun said.
Books in a number of Iowa school districts are being attacked by a handful of far right activists who are spurred on by well-funded organizations seeking to disrupt the American education system. The targeted books typically include descriptions of the lives of Americans who do not fit in their narrow worldview. Predominantly, these are books with LGBTQ+, non-white, and non-christian characters and very rarely are they books with sexual content. In fact, most of the books being challenged have won numerous prestigious literary awards.
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While these books may make a few far right legislators uncomfortable, the books are on library shelves so LGBTQ students and students of color can find people like themselves in literature written by authors who have had experiences relevant to their own lives. And so that all students can benefit from learning about the experiences and perspectives that they may not have previously encountered.
School district librarians, teachers, and staff make decisions about the appropriateness of books and other educational materials for different age groups. In most schools staffed with professional library staff there are reconsideration policies in place that guide the decision making process. Following these policies ensures that books aren’t removed from the shelf because of the complaints of a small vocal group trying to create a political circus.
But the proposal advocated by Sens. Chapman and Zaun goes beyond the issue of local control. They’re seriously considering prosecuting teachers and staff for simply providing access to books the lawmakers personally find unsuitable. Such a law would be a reckless power grab and an affront to free expression. Even the suggestion of it will likely prompt schools to think twice about diversifying their library collections for fear of political retribution.