What legislators don’t grasp about books in schools

My late friend Paul was a fine Des Moines teacher. I wish the Evans girls had him for history and government.

Judging from his ability to entertain me with descriptions of his interactions with students, parents and administrators, I am confident he could make the Peloponnesian War come alive for his history students and hold their attention.

If I live to be 100, I will never forget him relating anecdotes from parent-teacher conferences. He described one student sitting next to Mom, listening as Paul expressed concern about the kid’s sluggishness many mornings.

Then came the money quote: “You know the rules!” Mom exclaimed, looking her son in the eyes. “There’s no marijuana use on school nights!”

I have always gravitated to teachers, even back in my school days in the last century. Their observations from the classroom are priceless — and often quite candid and illuminating.

Take, for example, my recent lunch with a middle school English and literature teacher. Here is his money quote: “This may surprise our governor and the Republicans in the Legislature, but there’s not a line of students clamoring to go to the library.”

For all the hand-wringing and angst about the books available in schools and the claims teachers and librarians are just itching to “indoctrinate” kids with all sorts of liberal ideas, there is a far bigger and real problem that is getting too little attention from our leaders. That is the lack of interest too many kids have in reading anything that is not on their phone.

That lack of awareness by our leaders has not stopped them from believing kids are lining up in school libraries to read juicy tidbits about nasty things like gender, sex, racism, U.S. history and other topics considered to be “woke,” whatever that is, that educators supposedly are pouring into impressionable young minds.

My teacher friend would dearly love to have a student pull up a chair and ask him for suggestions for books the kid should read. My friend would be thrilled if a pass to the library was as highly sought after as a restroom pass.

My friend would prefer to spend more time on the day’s lessons and less time dealing with students messing around on their phones in class, begging classmates for snacks, or explaining to the teacher why they have not completed an assignment.

Our recent conversation is one reason why I smiled in the other day when I read about the wonderful way a family in Iowa City has chosen to remember Grandma June, who was a librarian.

Mitchell and Ellie Lingo erected one of those Little Free Libraries on a post outside their home, near one of the Iowa City high schools. The concept behind these tiny book-sharing wooden boxes is simple:

The goal is to make books more available in neighborhoods without a traditional library nearby. The pint-sized repositories are intended to be inviting places next to a sidewalk where anyone can pause and borrow a book. They can return it when they finish and take another one. They can keep the book. Or they can drop off their own books for others to read.

A plaque on the front of the Lingos’ library identifies it as the June Solt-Wishman Free Banned Book Library. Among the few dozen books inside recently were “The Catcher in the Rye,” “The Hate You Give,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “Out of Darkness,” and other titles that might give some adults the hives.

Mitchell Lingo said in a social media post, “The thing about Grandma June is that the book-ban law would have her rolling over in her grave.”

Lingo went on: “We decided to honor Grandma by making is a ‘free banned books’ library for local students to have access to banned books in the past, present and future.”

Grandma June knew, as my teacher friends know, that reading is a path to a world of opportunities.

My teacher friends want their students to read and think. They are as troubled by the notion of indoctrination of students, just as they are troubled by the growing pressure in some places to ban books because people dislike the topics, the content or the author.

Intolerance and censorship have no place in an educational environment. Some of the messages sent to the headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., for the Little Free Libraries nonprofit corporation recognize the special place of respect books and libraries deserve.

One husband sent a donation in memory of his late wife and wrote on a note, “You’re never alone when you have a book.”

Another wrote, “Honoring my Grandma, who instilled in me a love of reading.”

And this one, which accompanied a donation, said: “My mother taught me the importance of books and was always dropping me off at the library. ‘Books will take you places beyond your dreams’.”

I can imagine Grandma June and my friend Paul would get along swimmingly up there in Heaven. Anyone who spent her career in a library would have plenty of stories to keep Paul entertained. And I know he would have her chuckling as he told her the “no marijuana on school nights” story.

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Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

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