Jul 5, 2011

Iowa: Same Difference

Image via Wikipedia
When I lived in Miami, a visiting New Yorker asked me where I’d come from.  I said, 
I moved here from Iowa.

She replied, “Isn’t it supposed to be pronounced... Ohio?” 

Despite public perception, Iowa is not a state filled with uneducated, redneck hicks. Though a toothless farmer in overalls seems to be the media’s go-to guy when they are reporting stories from my home state, the reality is different.

I think it’s time for progressive, educated people everywhere to learn more about the state where I live.

In the blogosphere and on Twitter, it often seems that Iowans’ experiences are not regarded as relevant. In the case of my own life as a tweeter/blogger, the reactions I get from people are often doubt-filled: I must not know much about diversity in public education because I teach in Iowa. I can’t have much experience with multiculturalism because I live in Iowa. I obviously don’t know what it’s like to teach truly challenging students because I teach in Iowa. The urban tweeting/blogging majority seems to perceive that educational issues in the middle of the country are not as relevant or important as the educational issues that happen on either coast.

I don’t buy into that mindset. Here are some of the many reasons why Iowa should be recognized as one of the most progressive states in the nation:
  • Interracial marriage was legalized in 1851 (Loving v. Virginia legalized interracial marriage in the U.S. in 1967)
  • Slavery was abolished in 1844, (The abolition of slavery was included in the State Constitution before Iowa actually achieved statehood. The Constitution, including the abolition law, was finally fully ratified in 1857, 8 years before the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed)
  • 96 years before Brown vs. Board of Educationin 1868, Iowa ruled that separate was not equal and our schools were integrated

Buxton, Iowa integrated school (note the African-American teacher)
Photo via African-American Museum of Iowa website

  • Women were allowed to enroll at our state universities as early as 1871
  • 80 years before Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus Emma Coger, a mixed race woman, was asked to leave a whites only dining room on a steam boat. She fought the decision and in 1873 the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that she could not be denied the right to eat wherever she wanted to eat
  • Iowa was the first state to name Barack Obama as a Democratic nominee for president
  • Iowa was the third state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage 
Iowa is definitely a very white state. But don’t let our overall statistics fool you: we are home to some very diverse communities. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, our population is rapidly changing. Many communities in our state boast minority populations of 20-30% --and those numbers are growing.  A town not far from where I live has a Latino majority—only 48% of its residents are white.  My children attend an elementary school that is 58% non-white.

As in other parts of the country, Iowa struggles with growing poverty. As in other parts of the country, we are seeing that poverty and minority status seem to be linked. We have gangs, we have drug problems, and our prisons are overcrowded. As in other parts of the country, we believe that education is the best way to cure wait ails our society. Throughout Iowa's history, civil rights and education have been intertwined.  Iowa strives to be independent from the rest of the nation by doing what is right instead of what is popular. Can other states say the same?


  1. The teacher in the photo looks multiracial.

  2. one typo, otherwise and excellent article.

  3. Think I got it fixed, Mom. Thanks :)

  4. Wow. Seriously? By all standards, I'd say Iowa is ahead of the pack in being a truly progressive state. I would've never known it! Great info. I vote for doing what's "right," always.

    *waves* Hi, Ma. ; D

  5. J Olivarez-MazoneJuly 8, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    I'm thinking perhaps I should move my kids to Iowa. Thanks for all the information on Iowa. I agree with Ezzy, seems they are for doing the "right" thing. 

  6. Jen, loved this post!  I never knew much about Iowa, but when I moved across country from Michigan to South Dakota, I was one of the people complaining about Iowa...lol.  Everyone seemed to be white and there just weren't enough gas stations!  I was trapped in Iowa for two days in a snow storm once and I was not a fan for a while.  I have to say, I'm in awe of the accomplishments of your state though...wow!  I really applaud you for setting the record straight because Iowa does get a bad rap and people do stereotype if often as an "all white, rural state".  It's great to hear the other side of the story and shocking to find out how truly progressive Iowa has been!

  7. Really, it's not a bad place to live (at least not in my neighborhood!) We plan to stay:

    Too funny about my mom, eh? ;-P

  8. Thanks, Chantilly! I wish I'd known you when you needed to stop in Iowa. We could've shown you how wonderful it can be :)  If you ever need to stop again, you are welcome to visit--you and I are practically neighbors...lol!

  9. Thanks for your comment, Jessica! We have our pockets of struggle here, but it really is a great state. You and your family are welcome any time :)

  10. I love it! She's got the technology thing going. ; D 

  11. Chantilly ... a little MF road-trip??? ; D

  12. Seriously I would never of thought twice about Iowa until now!  Great article & I appreciate you educating those of us who are naive to the history of Iowa. :)  Who would of thought...I am speechless!

  13. The teacher in the photo looks multiracial.

  14. Glenn, I posted a reply to this weeks ago, but it didn't show up. You're right, she looks multiracial. The museum website it came from didn't specify multiracial, and the photo appears above a story about African-American teachers in the town of Buxton. I thought it best to label the photo the same as it was on its original site.


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