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Iowa is caught in the middle: middle America, middle-class, middle income, right in the middle of the country. The town where I teach, Grinnell, is in the middle of Iowa.

And now, teachers like me are in the middle of a cultural divide. We’re all especially divided over the teaching of history.

What should be included? Who influences the development of courses? Who makes the final decisions?

Many educators are taking a “mail carrier” approach to what’s being taught in schools.

These educators believe their School Boards are responsible for developing curriculum, and the teacher’s job is to deliver it. These teachers don’t want to write curriculum.

But many other educators embrace writing curriculum. They see this as an essential part of their duties. They take an “architect” approach to teaching, designing, building and testing the new curriculum. The “architect” teachers are the ones under incredible pressure.

In high school curriculum meetings nationwide, especially when it comes to history, our polarized American cultural and political climate is creeping into high school curriculum meetings. Working relationships between educators and the communities they serve are hurting because of it.   


Iowans historically hold formal education in high regard. Our state license plate features a schoolhouse.

Today, Iowa’s historic respect and trust in teachers is waning.

History teachers in particular face efforts to bridle their “architect” drive. Here in Grinnell, the attack began in 2020, when the U.S. convulsed over racial strife shortly after George Floyd’s murder.

I realized then that much of our community wants only “mail carriers.” Furthermore, some want to decide what “mail” gets delivered. I realized the “architect” teacher may be endangered, and soon become a thing of the past.

The teaching of history is an immense undertaking. We history teachers must make constant decisions about what to include or what to leave out, and time (classroom time) is always the constraint. Teachers must weigh the value of this portion of history against that portion. Inevitably, something has to go.

A question every good history teacher must ask themselves is the question that tore apart Grinnell in 2020 and 2021: “What information will help my students MOST in the future?”

That central question is THE battleground in schools nationwide now. These larger cultural issues are politicizing local school board elections. Schools receive pressure by one side to resolve American cultural problems, while at the same time, the other side demands we focus entirely on reading, math and writing. The history teacher is caught.

We are obligated to prepare our students for the future.  As our communities become more culturally diverse,  relationship-building requires more and more skills. Our schools are expected to adapt, expand services, and serve everyone equitably. With the demands from every direction, and this cavernous split in our society, teachers and administrators often wonder, how will we get the job done?

For now, we’re stuck in the middle. The cultural divide has stalled our curriculum work.  Our teachers’ good efforts continue, but with a heightened feeling of vulnerability.


Grinnell’s history teachers may soon all become “mail carriers.” For now at least, this “architect” will keep building, and hope others join us soon.