Right, background information first. The Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Farm Bureau coordinate with the office of the Governor of Iowa to create the Iowa Governor’s Scholar program. It’s designed to honor the highest-achieving students from each of Iowa’s high schools. It seems to be largely a ceremonial thing–the students get some sort of certificate of recognition and get a chance to be photographed standing next to the governor. The governor has to sacrifice a chunk of time standing still while kids rotate in and out for their photos, but she gets some free good publicity. Everybody wins, right?
That’s what normally happens. This year, not so much. This year Gov. Kim Reynolds and the GOP-controlled legislation have enacted a number of awful MAGA-inspired laws. This year, some of the kids being honored felt compelled to speak out in protest to the Iowa GOP’s repeated attempts to turn this state in the Florida of the Midwest.
For example, this year the Iowa GOP passed a wide-ranging education bill that includes a ban of public school books that include descriptions of sex acts, It also makes it easier to remove challenged books from school libraries. The law could include everything from Catcher in the Rye to Twilight to What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to And Tango Makes Three (which is a children’s book about two bonded male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who raised a penguin chick). It’s a truly reprehensible law.
This year, the GOP-controlled legislature also passed legislation creating what they call “education savings accounts.” This new law allows the state to use funds marked for public education to be spent instead on private education. It provides families with US$7,600 per student in public education funds which can now be used to cover private school tuition and fees. Most of those private schools, of course, are religious schools and religious schools are almost universally conservative Christian schools. This law not only undermines the purpose of secular public education, it also creates the conditions for religious/political indoctrination.
Also this year, Gov. Reynolds and the Iowa GOP have passed a number of anti-trans legislation. This includes barring transgender girls and women from participating in girls and women’s sports, a ban on students (and adults) using public school bathrooms and locker rooms that don’t align with their gender assigned at birth, and prohibiting minors from receiving gender-affirming care even with a parent’s or guardian’s permission. These laws not only discriminate against trans kids, it publicly marks them as dangerous, thereby putting trans kids at emotional and physical risk.
Springsteen wore pins stating “Trans Rights Are Human Rights” and “She Her” and as she left the stages loudly proclaimed, “Trans rights are human rights.”
These were deliberate, thoughtful acts of civil protest against the sort of hyper-partisan political legislative movements we’re seeing in several ‘red’ states. They were acts of individual courage and integrity, done with as much respect as possible under the circumstances. Friedman said,
“I intend no disrespect to any other of the students (or attendees) there for sure. But if the governor feels disrespected, that is the purpose of the protest. Because we don’t respect what she has done recently with the laws that have been passed and the ideologies that she instilled into the government in our state.”
Springsteen, who is trans, explained why it’s critically important for trans kids to be able to affirm themselves while still in school. She came out as trans to her classmates during a speech class.
“I was terrified, obviously. But my teacher has always been really supportive. She’s always been really supportive, and there for me. As far as the class goes, there were a few there who I was really terrified of how they’d react. But I think within my speech, I’m hopeful that I managed to change their minds about the issue. I didn’t have any issues with them after that point. “
And that’s it, isn’t it. This is one of the unspoken benefits of public education. School is where kids learn how to get along with other kids, even those who are different in some way. School is where kids get exposed to new ideas, it’s where kids learn other kids can hold different views, believe different things, have different backgrounds, have different types of parents, exist in different ways, and yet can still get along with each other. School is where we begin to learn how to behave as adults.
Gov. Reynolds and the Iowa GOP need to go back to school. These kids could teach them a lot about modern life.