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Davis Journal

HB29 is stern attempt to ban books in school libraries

Feb 08, 2024 02:36PM ● By Bryan Gray

Our legislative leaders have expressed concern that about half of all Utah public school teachers leave the profession within five years. The legislators have increased pay, and Davis County’s own Stuart Adams actually suggested that the most qualified teacher earn some $100,000 annually in the near future. 

The problem is that these same legislators handcuff teachers on what they can and cannot teach and how they can best help student learning.

A great example this year is the ridiculous House Bill 29 which is a stern attempt to ban books in school libraries and classrooms. Utah already ranks fifth in the nation in the number of book bans, even though most of the requests have come from a mere handful of parents. Go to any PTSA meeting; you won’t find a mob of parents holding signs claiming that little Jordan or Madison are being lured by Satan to expose themselves to the evil ideas in the school library.

But H.B. 29 is the worst example of letting 1% control the habits of the other 99%. Under the bill, school district committees will be established to consider the very subjective evaluation of a book’s literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Different parents will have varied ideas. When I was teaching 16-year-olds in Davis County, I received a complaint that a book (“The Great Gatsby”) should not be read since it contained numerous references to gin cocktails and vodka martinis. Of course, it was a silly request, but any request could go to the evaluation committee if the Legislature approves the bill.

And here’s the most dangerous part of H.B. 29: If any three school districts banned the book or the instructional material, it would be banned statewide. If extremely conservative areas banned the book, it would be removed in less conservative areas as well. Let’s get real…a few parents in Piute, Sanpete, and Sevier counties should not dictate what students in Salt Lake, Bountiful and Ogden read!

Eight years ago, I received a letter from a reader, a teacher of 32 years, agreeing with my statement that teachers should not be made sacrificial lambs due to the far-right or far-left parent rights groups. “Teaching,” she wrote, “provides context to literature, including language usage and thematic issues. That’s a teacher’s job!”

In a similar vein, Nolan Karras, a retired Speaker of the Utah House, recently wrote that “Utah’s public schools must be more than a place to learn math and grammar. They must be laboratories of values like tolerance and empathy, and civic duty that undergird a healthy society while including everyone.” (S.L. Tribune, 1/7/24)

Teacher burn-out is not solely traced to legislative interference. High class loads and discipline issues are major reasons teachers leave. But bills like H.R. 29 not only fail to spotlight the diversity among Utah communities, but also display a profound lack of respect for the profession.

If Sen. Adams offers $100,000 paychecks to a select few, some will stay in the classroom. But the best teachers won’t! 

Bryan Gray, a longtime Davis County resident, is a former school teacher and has been a columnist for more than 26 years in newspapers along the Wasatch Front.