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SKIPPER: Library books a matter for local control

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Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel, and Judiciary Chairman Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, support a plan that would, in effect, allow the state Legislature to determine what books would be appropriate for classroom learning and for school libraries.

In fact, the proposed legislation would allow criminal felony charges to be brought against teachers and librarians who go against what the Legislature deems as inappropriate.

John Skipper


“It has become increasingly evident that we live in a world in which many, including our media, wish to confuse, misguide and deceive us, calling good evil and evil good,” said Chapman on the opening day of the Legislature

“The attack on our children is no longer hidden. Some teachers are disguising sexually obscene material as desired subject matter and profess it has artistic and literary value,” he said.

Clearly, this is a cause in search of a constituency. It is the radical right accusing the radical left without providing any evidence to back up its claims. And even if it was true, do we really want the government to tell us what we can and can’t read or what we can or can’t teach?

The solution is local control with decisions being made by local school boards and school administrations with healthy, helpful input from parents.

Republicans have always been the party advocating less government regulation, not more. So this is a real reversal of philosophy. Sometimes that’s called hypocrisy.

So let’s stop this nonsense before it gets out of hand. And it can get out of hand. The Oklahoma Legislature this year will consider a bill in which lawmakers will determine appropriateness of school and library books – and issue fines of $10,000 a day for non-compliance.

In Iowa, State Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, a former longtime school teacher, said procedures are already in place for school officials to review and approve or disapprove of reading materials. She said the system is working.

“I think we need to leave it the way it has been,” said Steckman.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, who controls the path of much legislation, thinks fellow Republicans Chapman and Zaun may have gone to extremes in their proposed legislation.

“I think we feel very strongly, obviously, that pornography shouldn’t be distributed amongst a school. However, how do we do that in a way in which the local school boards are the ones that are making sure that it’s being addressed?” said Grassley, grandson of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.

I was reading a book the other day that was full of violence, prostitution, infidelity and worshiping of idols, In the broadest sense, it would be the kind of book that Chapman and fellow Republicans would want to keep out of the hands of children. The book is the Old Testament of the Bible.

Is the Bible obscene? Of course not. Is the "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" obscene? Of course not. Is "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" obscene? Of course not.

If parents in a community have a problem with what books their children are required to read or that are available at their public library, there are local procedures for handling those complaints. And what meets a community standard in Davenport might not be acceptable in Council Bluffs. That’s what local control is all about.

The Legislature should concern itself with properly funding our schools, paying good money for good teachers and facilities and, after that, pretty much mind its own business.

COLLECTION: The latest from John Skipper

Check out some of columnist John Skipper's most-read recent columns:

John Skipper retired from the Globe Gazette in February 2018 after 52 years in newspapers, most of that in Mason City covering North Iowa government and politics.


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