The Lumberjill: The f-bomb is only acceptable when talking about the president, and other language arts lessons from North Idaho

By Jen Jackson Quintano
Reader Columnist

My little one was nervous for the first day of school. The entire drive found her curled in the fetal position, reciting the mantra, I don’t want to go to school. I don’t want to go to school. It was the torturous metronome by which the many seconds of our 30-minute drive passed.

Finally, she announced, “I quit school. I’m going home.”

Jen Jackson Quintano. Courtesy photo.

I told her she couldn’t. I told her it was the law. I told her about truancy officers, mythical creatures, though they may be. Where would Idaho find the money for truancy officers? We can barely pay our teachers.

She persisted. “I’ve been to first grade. That’s enough.”

No, I told her, it’s not. One can’t make it in the world without a firm grasp on reading and writing. How would she support herself?

“Trees. I’ll sell baby trees. Trees don’t make you read. Neither do clouds, but I don’t know how to make money off those.”

I tried to explain the need for the “three R’s” in any business endeavor, even the farming of clouds, but at that point, we were at school. That’s where the real terror began. Our talk on truancy was shelved in favor of the tending of tears.

I gave her a hug, some reassuring words and a firm shove toward her waiting teacher. The need to learn is non-negotiable. 

In our conversation, I brought up education in terms of the law — in terms Sylvie can understand, with her reverence for police officers and certainty that the jail is full of monsters — but I want her in school for so many more reasons than that. Reasons, I hope, she’ll come to understand in time. On her own. Like education’s ability to uplift and inspire. The sense of wonder and delight evoked by learning. How it makes us better people, how it opens doors, how it can help engender morality and empathy, courage and hope. With everything we learn, we are expanded, after all.

I want my daughter expanded to bursting with all the world’s wonders.

If I had limitless funds, I would return again and again to college. I would collect advanced degrees as if they were strange little spoons from around the world: not particularly useful in my home, but a joy to accumulate, and I am a deeper person for all the places I’ve been.

I want Sylvie to love education as I do. I want her to value it.

And, goddamn it, I want that for Idaho, too.

But, alas, that may be asking too much.

Yes, Idaho just OK’d a major education funding boost. Big applause for that (and for Reclaim Idaho forcing lawmakers’ hands). This has been a long time coming. But how will that money help students in a climate of antagonism toward learning? 

The headlines in North Idaho lately have been disturbing for all who value the world of ideas and the freedom to explore it. Take Priest River, as an example. Earlier this summer, the school board there decided on a language arts curriculum and ordered the materials necessary to support it. Not a wacky, straight-outta-Berkeley curriculum or anything. No, just McGraw Hill run-of-the-mill. However, Blanchard Republican Rep. Heather Scott had an eye for the darkness lurking inside those textbooks, bless her freedom-loving soul (freedom as applied to guns, not education, mind you). She rallied the troops. 

The school board soon voted to rescind support of the curriculum, one which might espouse social-emotional learning models, thus grooming our children to become an army of trans communists (graphic novel idea, anyone?). The school now must pay $20,000 to ship the materials back and is operating this school year on an expired curriculum no longer supported with workbooks.

Thank goodness our kids won’t be learning about SEL or CRT… in the absence of a curriculum.

Then there are the library debacles. It made national news when Boundary County’s library director departed due to harassment and fear of violence, all related to community anger over 400 books (largely with LGBTQ and race-based themes) that don’t actually reside on the shelves. But, no matter. They might someday. It seems the specter of a book about having two mommies was enough for someone to repeatedly blow a shofar horn outside the library, as a message of spiritual warfare.

For real.

The children’s librarian in Kootenai County also departed from her post due to threats from her community. Parents were in a rage about books in the collection that their children may or may not ever see — and would not ever see if parents simply monitored their children’s reading habits. However, rather than have a dialogue with their children, these parents were more into yelling at the woman in charge of storytime.

And finally, remember last year when the man who homeschools his kids was elected to the school board? The man who wants to overturn the permanent school levy? Who wants to strip the curriculum of social-emotional learning? Remember that?

All of which brings me to this uniquely North Idaho paradox: Why is it OK for our kids to see vehicles veritably plastered with the f-bomb — the pinnacle of profanity — directed at our president, but heaven forbid that those kids pick up a book about sexuality or healthy emotions? Why is it OK that they regularly see a bumper sticker that says Joe and the Hoe Gotta Go (our vice president being the “hoe” in question, of course), but not books about inclusivity of all genders and races? Why is it that ignorance and disrespect are held in higher esteem than the kind of learning that dispels both evils?

I want my daughter to believe in the power of education, but how might that happen amid a culture that seeks to dismantle access to learning? When the classroom is underfunded and its curriculum undermined, when librarians (for chrissakes) are under siege… what then?

Thus, it is here that I bow deeply to the teachers, librarians and other guardians of knowledge in North Idaho. I bow deeply to you for your courage and your resolve to serve our entire community, even as certain members of it make your life uncomfortable. I was once a librarian, and I never found anything about it heroic. Today, in this place, librarians are my heroes. 

Sylvie’s teacher is my hero for believing in his curriculum, for having a zest for it, for inspiring his charges with that same verve and hunger.

Folks serving on school boards — not for any political agenda, but for the kids — are my heroes. School board meetings have become war zones in recent years. Yet, these public servants return to the trenches.

All the teachers, librarians, professors and mentors who stood by me over the years, they remain my heroes, too. I would not be half the person I am today were it not for the guidance of the brilliant and curious people who have taught me that life is the ultimate classroom, and the best approach is to remain ever curious.

So maybe today, I’ll visit the library and seek out a controversial book. It is Banned Books Week, after all. And I am not afraid of ideas.

And maybe my daughter will willingly enter the halls of her school today. Because she is no longer afraid. She is ready to be expanded.

Jen Jackson Quintano writes and runs an arborist business with her husband in Sandpoint. Find their website at See more of Quintano’s writing at

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