Randy Evans's blog

It’s wrong to tell parents what their kids can read

Here we are, well into year three of the effects and after-effects of Covid.

An oft-heard comment during this time has come from people who believe government should simply butt out. These people believe government should leave it to individuals, and parents, to decide what is best for themselves and their children.

“I trust Iowans to do the right thing,” Gov. Kim Reynolds has said multiple times.

But when other issues come up, there is evidence some of these same people want to impose their interpretation of what is right on other individuals and parents who may have different views from theirs of what is proper.

While we may not live in the communities where these new controversies are bubbling, we all should be troubled by these efforts just as much as if these efforts were occurring in our backyards.

One of these controversies is taking root in Baxter, a Jasper County town of 1,100 people. It is home to the Baxter Community School District, which had an enrollment of 475 students during the past academic year.

Our nation needs to focus on the greater good

Middle ground seems to have disappeared in the United States, and that’s unfortunate.

These days, there’s no appetite for the give-and-take that leads to compromise. Regardless of the side you are on, it’s pretty much “my way or the highway.”

Speaking of highways, in 1973, Congress and President Richard Nixon enacted a nationwide 55 mph speed limit in response to the oil embargo by Middle East petroleum producers.

Lead-footed Iowa drivers, frustrated after zooming along at 75 mph on Interstate highways, got nowhere with their objections the new speed limit interfered with their constitutionally articulated right to “secure the blessings of liberty” by driving faster.

A generation before, it was the same following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The federal government instituted a 35 mph “victory speed limit.” There were some who disregarded the new limit, of course, but most Americans willingly went along with the inconvenience — because they accepted assurances the lower speed limit was accomplishing a greater good for the American public.

Today, however, anyone making “the greater good” arguments about any limitations on guns is going to get a response similar to what occurs when you knock down a hornets’ nest.

We are tired of waiting for our leaders to lead

Aaron Salter Jr., 55, was on duty at the security job that supplemented his retirement income. Ruth Whitfield, 86, was buying groceries. Celestine Chaney, 65, stopped in for strawberries for the shortcake she and her sister were eager to enjoy.

But their plans went awry Saturday afternoon. Salter’s work shift ended sooner than he expected. Whitfield didn’t make it through her grocery list. And thoughts of strawberry shortcake evaporated in a flash for Chaney.

The three were slaughtered along with seven other people at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. Just like the 20 students, all 6 and 7 years old, and six employees who were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. Just like the 60 people who were gunned down at a music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.

If only our government officials were as interested in these individuals as were the political leaders who have obsessed over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas and her decision to compete for the Quakers or NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the national anthem.

Recent news has been hip-deep in irony

Irony has been so deep in recent days that we shouldn’t be surprised if people start walking around with their chore boots on or with the cuffs on their pants rolled up to avoid the mess.

Consider:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made an observation Friday that caused some people’s eyes to bug in disbelief.

Speaking in Atlanta to a group of judges and lawyers, he said of American society these days, “We are becoming addicted to wanting particular outcomes, not living with the outcomes we don’t like.”

There certainly are plenty of examples of that, both among Democrats and among Republicans. But Thomas failed to acknowledge any connection between his statement and the actions of his wife, Ginni, in the weeks leading up to the inauguration of President Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021.

Is it OK for teachers to push some views?

I’m confused.

Some of our political leaders seemed to be talking out of both sides of their mouths about why it is wrong for public school employees to engage in what the leaders think is pushing a point of view onto students.

These leaders need to figure out whether it is good — or is it bad? — when school employees are involved in what critics call indoctrination.

On one hand, some K-12 school districts around the nation have been up to their chalk boards in controversy over allegations teachers are trying to pass on to students the teachers’ opinions on LGBTQ issues, transgender rights, or disparities involving the races.

But this week, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case out of Bremerton, Wash., where a football coach’s post-game prayers on the 50-yard line have divided residents and split politicians nationwide more than any football rivalry.

Iowa is losing its way on our public schools

This is one of those times when people who have little appetite for politics need to pay attention — because a big change is coming that many folks won’t agree with.

When the U.S. Mint asked each state to pick an image to represent the state on a series of special quarters in 2004, Iowa chose its schools. The quarter featured a likeness of Grant Wood’s famous painting of a one-room country school, with the message “Foundation in Education.”

The choice was not surprising. Our schools have been something in which Iowans have long taken great pride. Our chests swelled each time Iowa stood atop the nation’s college entrance exam rankings. Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds even campaigned 10 years ago to bring Iowa’s schools up to world-class stature.

That was then. This year, Iowa’s foundation in education is being tested as surely as if an EF5 tornado were bearing down on every public-school building.

There’s more to being a leader than talking

Through history, some political leaders have been outstanding orators. Boy, could they talk. They knew how to mobilize and move people with their words.

Think of Franklin Roosevelt and, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Or Ronald Reagan and, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

The ability to crystallize their thoughts in memorable speeches can galvanize public opinion and bring people around to the leader’s views.

But the best leaders have something else, and it gets too little attention and respect, especially in these divisive times. That is the leader’s listening skills.

This lack of attention to listening is unfortunate, because leadership is more than simply making decisions. Leadership is far more complicated than just doing what the leader’s most ardent supporters want.

Lessons from a misguided pots-n-pans salesman

Many years ago, I sat at the kitchen table of a pots-n-pans salesman from Pleasant Valley. We didn’t talk about cookware. He was laying out with lots of precision why the United States government had no legal basis for prosecuting him for willfully refusing to file federal income tax returns.

It was a lengthy conversation that day in the late 1970s. I will spare you many of the details. It is enough for you to know two things about his salesmanship:

First, it was his assertion that the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one creating the income tax in 1913, was unconstitutional — in part, because the amendment was never properly ratified because Ohio was not properly admitted to the Union until 1953.

Second, neither the U.S. district judge, nor the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, bought his analysis — and he ended up spending a year in federal prison.

Last week, I found myself recalling the Iowa guy who was a cross between a kindly uncle and something of a crackpot. The trigger for my memories was news about two appearances in Sioux City by a lawyer from Florida with some, uhh, unconventional views of her own.

An expensive lesson for DM school taxpayers

Des Moines Superintendent Thomas Ahart has been a lightning rod during the past three years over the way Iowa’s public schools have responded to the Covid pandemic.

Ahart announced last week that he is leaving, effective June 30. But the Des Moines school board ensured that Ahart will continue to carry that lightning rod for a little longer.

His contract runs for another year, until June 30, 2023. So, you might think he is forgoing his $306,193 salary, his $7,200 annual allowance for a car and cell phone, and his $84,019 taxpayer-provided retirement annuity.

But you would be wrong, wrong and wrong.

Here’s another place we need more transparency

There has been a lot of talk lately about why Iowa’s K-12 school districts need to be more transparent, and more accessible and more accountable, to parents and the rest of the tax-paying people of Iowa.

That is the justification offered for a bulging backpack full of bills introduced in the Legislature this year.

But lawmakers should not stop with their push for improved transparency in schools.

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