There’s a big birthday coming up in Iowa in about a month.
This place we call home – those 55,800 square miles of farmland, woodland, and housing and commercial clusters – joined the Union 175 years ago on December 28.
It should be the occasion of a celebration. But it probably won’t. We’re having a hard time agreeing on a lot of things these days, it seems, including libraries.
The spotlight was on them last week at a committee meeting in the Johnston Community School District. The topic was whether two teenage novels, “The Hate U Give” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”, should be available in the library at Johnston High School for students to read. . The school is the third largest in Iowa, with approximately 1,725 children.
Parents Mandy and Rodney Gilbert complained that both books were inappropriate, obscene and offensive. The books contain sexually explicit language and material that the Gilberts said should not be made available to students.
State Senator Jake Chapman, a Republican from neighboring Adel, attended the meeting and had similar concerns. “I don’t know why the school thinks it is above the law,” he said, according to news reports, “but I plan to do something.”
Chapman is the Speaker of the Senate. He said he was drafting legislation that would make it a crime for teachers or librarians to give what he believes to be obscene material to students.
The legislation would also include what he called “civil remedies”. He did not elaborate, but people may recall that Texas’ new abortion restriction law contains “remedies” that allow anyone, not just the government, to take legal action to enforce the law.
At the heart of the conflict in Johnston – and similar conflicts in a handful of other Iowa communities – are teenage books involving themes of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender stories.
Johnston’s teachers said the books have been used in English lessons since 2017. But they have substituted other books for students whose parents request an alternative.
Veronica Lorson Fowler, an official with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said the ACLU opposes attempts to prevent young people from having access to age-appropriate books. Books should be judged on their overall artistic merit and intellectual merit, she said, and not just on selected passages.
In other words, a small group of parents shouldn’t be able to prevent everyone’s kids from having access to a certain book – let it deal with maturity as a teenager with conflict. gender or whether the book is about growing up as Black, Latino, or Muslim.
Amanda Vasquez, chair of the Iowa Library Association’s intellectual freedom committee, told the Des Moines Register: children. … No one should try to stop someone else from reading materials just because they themselves may not find them suitable for their own family.
It is telling that no objections have been filed against the two books at Johnston High School until this school year. It is almost a rock-solid certainty that banning books would lead students to find ways to see what they are missing – by reading them in a public library, passing around purchased copies in stores, or by picking them up. reading on their phone or computer.
As for the language Gilberts and Chapman find objectionable: If you were a mouse in the corner where many teens congregate outside the reach of adults, you would almost certainly hear words and comments that would fit perfectly with the language found in many. novels for young people. adults.
Chapman and other reviews of some of these books casually throw out terms like “obscene” and “pornographic.” The state obscenity law, Chapter 728 of the Iowa Code, contains a very specific definition – material describing sexual acts that, when they apply “contemporary community standards” and “caught in their eye. together, lack serious literary, scientific, political or artistic value ”.
But the legislature included in this law a specific exemption for schools and public libraries. He states: “Nothing in this chapter prohibits the use of appropriate materials for educational purposes in any accredited school, or public library, or in any educational program in which the minor participates. Nothing in this chapter prohibits the participation of minors in an exhibition or exhibition of works of art or the use of any material in a public library. “
For a state that was years ahead of recognizing the rights of blacks and same-sex couples, it would be unfortunate if we celebrated Iowa’s 175th anniversary by denying access to other points of view in school libraries, although these are upsetting and disturbing to some people.