Tennessee Teachers Barred From Having Classroom ... Books
It's back to school time, and you know what that means! Kids eagerly looking forward to their cool new Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers, 7th-graders freaking out that the only notebook paper at the store was "wide ruled," and that's for BABIES, DAD! and the occasional high school football player being pushed to practice in extreme heat until he drops dead. It's a tradition!
And in this year of Parental Rights Culture Wars, it's also time for that new back-to-school tradition, teachers dreading what rightwing parents and media will freak out over this time. For a vivid illustration of the extra work resulting from the drive to make sure no rightwing parent is ever bothered by anything in any school, see this viral TikTok video by Sydney Rawls — or at least "@sydneyrawls" — it's her TikTok username — a teacher in an unidentified Tennessee elementary school. Rawls explains that, thanks to the state's new "Age-Appropriate Materials Act," she's not allowed to let her early elementary students read any books in her classroom until she has first catalogued every single book and made sure that all the titles are approved as "age appropriate" by higher-ups in the school district.
Tennessee Teachers can relate 😤 #fyp #teachers #teachersoftiktok #backtoschool #tennesseeteacher #departmentofeducation #teacherinspo #teachermotivation #letusteach #teachersdontgetpaidenough #teacherlife #teacherworkingafterhours #teachersbelike #teacherlifebelike #teacherproblems #educationtiktok #childrensliteracy #kidswanttoread #teachersontiktok #teachertok #teacherproblems #tennessee
Noting that she normally wouldn't be anywhere near her classroom on a Saturday, Rawls said she had to get the cataloguing done in her own time so that her students could read any books in her classroom.
Once she's compiled her comprehensive list of the hundreds of books in her classroom, she says, she'll send her list to the school librarian, to check against a list of "approved" books, "based on I don't even know what," before any approved books can be used in her classroom. Then, she says, the librarian would send the list of books that weren't on the approved list to a higher authority, who'll review it and decide — again, based on who knows what — which to approve.
After hearing back from the two levels of review, Rawls says, she'd need to remove any unapproved books from her classroom — and if there's any kind of appeals process, she doesn't mention it, though why would there be?
So now she can let kids read, right? NAH NO WAY: Once all her books have been sanctified by the state, she has to post the list to the school website, so parents can weigh in, perhaps to complain that a book about seahorses is trying to "normalize that males can get pregnant," and such "gender fluidity" will mess up first-graders' brain. Yes, even though seahorses already live in fluid, and though real first-graders would just consider that a cool science fact and then demand to watch a Bluey video. Haha, we are kidding — Moms for Liberty and/or Fascism already complained in one county about that seahorse book, so it may not make it to the approved list at all.
But once that little gauntlet has been navigated, her students can finally read the books, at least until Fox News decides that Flopsy Bunny is suspiciously limp-wristed and those Berenstain Bears are agents of George Soros.
Rawls said that she's already had kids in her classroom for start of school testing, and that when kids finish early, they'll ask
"Can I go get a book and read?" and I have to say "No you can’t," Because I haven’t had a chance to go through all of them to catalog them and write them all down to send off to somebody that is going to tell them that they can or can not read the books in my classroom library.
OK, now multiply that by the more than 67,000 classroom teachers in Tennessee, although we'd assume high school teachers generally have smaller classroom libraries. Colonel Dowd, the Air Force retiree who "taught" Air Force Junior ROTC in my high school, kept a fairly clean bookshelf, with mostly old issues of Flying and Air Force magazines, and I think a dictionary. He was such a nut.
Now, we thought that all sounded insane, but we poked around in the law, now Public Chapter 744, and found that it does indeed require each school district in the state to maintain a list of all non-textbook materials available to students in its schools, and that the schools must make sure those materials are
appropriate for the age and maturity levels of the students who may access the materials, and that the materials are suitable for, and consistent with, the educational mission of the school
The law also requires that the schools post all those materials to their websites and allow students and parents to offer feedback on any book (or other media). Anything determined not to be age appropriate has to be removed, although there doesn't yet appear to be a requirement to burn it. How's that for generous?
Also too, a separate state law enacted this year requires the state textbook commission to develop official guidance for what schools should consider "age appropriate," but the commission has until December 1 of this year to actually issue that guidance. Until then, it's up to the districts. Crom only knows whether districts will revise their standards all over again in response, making yet another inventory necessary.
We also found a Daily Kos post saying that on August 9, "teachers across the state" received emails explaining that
each classroom teacher needs to create a list of books they have in their classroom libraries that students can access prior to allowing students access to those books.
The email notes that the school district (its name is redacted) is "aware that this will take time for teachers to complete" if they want to have books and other stuff for kids to read. Perhaps as consolation to teachers who don't want to do all the extra unpaid work, it adds that
there is NO district requirement that teachers create and publish a list. However, they will not be able to utilize their classroom libraries for student access until a list is posted online.
How comforting — you only need to do it if you give a crap about your students, hooray. We'll add that we weren't able to find another source for the email, or verification that every district in Tennessee has sent similar emails.
So hooray for the good, patriotic, terminally aggrieved parents of Tennessee. Now that teachers have to make sure every last scrap of paper (and video, and other formats) is subject to public scrutiny, maybe they'll finally stop promoting PornHub in class (an actual complaint) and indoctrinating innocent first graders with Marxism by suggesting they share.
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