Iowa Council for the Social Studies



The 2021 ICSS Fall Conference, "Iowa Social Studies: A Whole New World," will be held on 
October 4th with pre-conference workshops on October 3rd at the West Des Moines Marriott.  Registration and session information will be coming soon on our 2021 Conference page.  We look forward to seeing you there!

NOTE: Early bird registration prices end September 26th!!

Questions? Contact ICSS at icssonline@gmail.com

  • 01 Jul 2021 1:27 PM | KELLI HUTT (Administrator)

    1 July 2021 

    Unfortunately, the modern technologies of photography and video have provided us with far too many  images of inhumanity and atrocity, but this spring, as multiple state legislatures have focused their  attention on the teaching and discussion of racism, I have been remembering one particular image. 

    It’s a postcard from a century ago, when postcards were new and fashionable. My memory is of a  group of white people dressed in their Sunday best. They are posing for the camera—men with boater  hats, women with parasols, and the children. No one is smiling because photography had not  advanced enough for smiles in posed photographs, yet. At the center of the image are the hanging  remains of a Black man who had been lynched. 

    I find this image incomprehensible. Why would these people think it appropriate to not only pose for  this photograph but to dress in their best? What sort of person would send this kind of postcard?  What would be the message on the back of this postcard? Who would want to receive it? What does  this postcard say about these people? 

    This image is not an anomaly. There is an entire genre of postcards from the late 19th and early 20thcentury that show similar images. The website “Without Sanctuary”has a collection of over 100 of  these photos and postcards. And don’t assume they are all from the South. One of the postcards shows  the lynched bodies of three men in Duluth, Minnesota in 1920 (Photo #26). 

    As I have listened to politicians justify new legislation using terms like scapegoating and stereotyping,  I keep remembering this image of community pride at the torture and killing of a man. I think of  words like complicity and culpability. I have no doubt that some of the white hands in that image held  the rope or beat that man to death. Some of the faces in that photograph are of men who were  culpable in this death. But the rest of the faces in the photograph are of people who were complicit in  that man’s death. They didn’t hold the rope and they didn’t beat that man, but by their choices, their  actions, their speech, they created a system that normalized this kind of atrocity. 

    At times in the last year, we have seemed to be engaging in a national intervention on racism. It’s not  been comfortable, and it shouldn’t be. Interventions are held because great harm has been done and  future harm needs to be prevented. Interventions are conducted to get a person to recognize how  his/her actions are affecting others. It requires asking hard questions and engaging in a thorough self reflection. At its heart, it is a discussion of culpability and complicity.  

    However, this spring, legislators in several states, including Iowa, seem to think this intervention is  over, and they are using their political power to try to end this conversation for those of us in  education. Iowa’ legislation, HF 802, is entitled “Race and sex stereotyping training prohibited by  state and local governments.” Statements by legislators who support the law and the governor have  focused on the idea of protecting students and staff from stereotyping or scapegoating. When the  governor signed HF 802, she stated that this would ensure that people would be judged on the basis  of their character. When I heard that statement, all I could think about was the character of those  white people, posed in their Sunday best. 

    While a close reading of the legislation will find seemingly positive statements like “…may continue  training that fosters a workplace and learning environment that is respectful of all employees.”  (Section 1.2) or “…each agency…shall prohibit its employees from discriminating against other  employees…” (Section 3) and about half the legislation lists what it doesn’t prohibit, including the  teaching of the history of racism and sexism, HF 802 is problematic. The most problematic parts are  in Section 2.1.c. that defines what the legislation means by “specific defined concepts.” (Note: in the  original legislation the term used was “divisive concepts.”) There are eight statements in this section. 

    To an educator, several of them are just offensive because they imply that teachers intentionally harm  their students. (Note: Actually, the well-being and success of every student is the highest priority for  teachers.) 

    Two of the “specific defined concepts” are problematic because, despite all the statements in the  legislation to the contrary, they may prevent the teaching of certain content. The first of these  prevents saying or teaching that “That the United States of America and the state of Iowa are  fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist.” This statement is factually inaccurate. According to  Merriam-Webster.com, systemic describes “what relates to or affects an entire system.” Racism and  sexism have affected the United States, and by default Iowa, across its history, its government, its  economy, its society, and so on. Here is a very small sampling of examples: 

    Politically—eg. Slavery was protected in the original Constitution. Susan B. Anthony was  convicted and fined for voting in the 1876 election. 

    Economically—eg. The greatest generator of wealth is homeownership and redlining  prevented Black people from getting mortgages; credit card companies didn’t issue credit  cards to women until the 1970s. 

    Socially—eg. The Augusta National Golf Course didn’t admit Black members until 1990 and  didn’t admit women members until 2012. At the beginning of the 20th century, many rural  Iowa communities had sundowner laws (written or unwritten) that required Black people to  be out of town by sundown. 

    Culturally—eg. Popular culture has a long tradition of denigrating people of color and women,  often through stereo-typing. 

    The other problematic statement is Section 2.1.c.8 “That any individual should feel discomfort, guilt,  anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of that individual’s race or sex.” This  statement requires an instructor to know how each and every student will receive the information that  is being taught. For example, if a student of German descent feels guilt or discomfort from learning  about what Germans did to Jews during the Holocaust, should teachers stop teaching the Holocaust? If this example seems outrageous, it is, but it fits what this legislation is trying to do. Social Studies  curriculum is not all rainbows and unicorns. Social Studies curriculum needs to give students an  opportunity to learn and discuss difficult ideas and topics because life beyond high school isn’t all  rainbows and unicorns either.  

    K-12 systems have a duty and responsibility to best prepare students for success, and neither telling  students falsehoods nor sugarcoating the curriculum will satisfy that duty or responsibility. Learning  about the past is not to assign blame to people in the present, but to understand the people and  processes that got us to the present and help us create a better future. No business would dare to  ignore problems or difficulties that need to be overcome. Why are educators being asked to do that? 

    As we look to a new school year with all the usual challenges and all the new challenges it will bring, I  continue to sit with that postcard image and the questions of culpability and complicity that it raises.  As I read HF 802, it legislates complicity. By adhering to this law, my choices, my actions, and my  speech will be perpetuating a system of racism and sexism, and I refuse to put on my Sunday best and  join in that national portrait. 

    Catherine Mein 

    President  

    Iowa Council for the Social Studies


    Supported by the members of the ICSS Executive Board

Mission Statement
ICSS promotes, supports and provides leadership to improve social studies education.

Vision Statement
​Our vision is to be the premier organization of Iowa Social Studies professionals, ensuring that all students have a high quality Social Studies education.

Why Join ICSS?

  • ICSS Newsletter shared electronically each month during the school year, provides timely information regarding ICSS, lesson ideas, tips and opportunties for Iowa social studies teachers.
  • ICSS Annual Conference provides professional development in Social Studies curriculum and instruction
  • To represent the social studies profession.  
  • Advocacy tips
  • Questions?? Contact Chad Christopher at icssonline@gmail.com 
Join us



   ICSS has been recognized as a Gold Star Council by the National Council for Social Studies

This recognition was based on the following criteria:

1. Have democratic procedures for the election of officers.
2. Have demonstrated professional activity, such as workshops, conferences, and generally, programs that promote the social studies within their region.
3. Have actively participated in NCSS programs, such as brokering, submitting nominations for NCSS awards, attendance at the Summer Leadership Institute and legislative networking .
4. Have actively participated in social studies legislative advocacy efforts at state and/or at Federal level by: responding to NCSS legislative advocacy calls, disseminating calls to council members, building relationships with legislators,
having an active legislative liaison, and developing a legislative advocacy plan.

5. Have contributed to NCSS fundraising efforts, such as the First Timer Scholarship Fund for the NCSS Annual Conference, the Fund for the Advancement of Social Studies Education, or the Christa McAuliffe "Reach for the Stars" Award Fund
6. Have 100% NCSS membership of council officers.
7. Have a specific plan for increasing NCSS membership in their state and underrepresented groups in their council.
8. Have shown an increase in the number of joint members.
9. Submit affiliation materials by deadline.

Image left: ICSS Executive board members Catherine Mein and Todd Hospodarsky accept the Iowa Council for the Social Studies award as an NCSS Gold Star Council.

The Iowa Council for the Social Studies is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. 

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