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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: moms for liberty

Suburban Wingnuts Banned 'Maus' -- And Now Everyone Wants To Read It

As I write, the recently-inaugurated Republican governor of Virginia is engaged in a Twitter war with a mouthy high school kid.

And losing.

It’s like something out of Curb Your Enthusiasm, a TV program “Moms for Liberty” would surely ban if they could. Never mind that the whole thing started because the kid posted an inaccurate article about Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s closing down an educational exhibit about slavery -- which he didn’t do.

Any time you’re having a public spat with somebody seventeen, however, you’re in trouble. Youngkin blamed overzealous staffers for “an unauthorized tweet” taunting young Ethan Lynee for appearing in a photo with “a man that had a Blackface/KKK photo in his yearbook.”

That would be Youngkin’s immediate predecessor, former Gov. Ralph Northam, who once apologized for the Blackface photo but now says it wasn’t him. So, it’s a comedy of errors all around.

My own policy is to avoid Twitter altogether. Facebook is dangerous enough. Also, I’m not running for anything. Not never one time, as a backwoods friend likes to say. And if I ever did declare my candidacy, my wife would seek legal guardianship and have me put out to pasture.

Even so, the Youngkin episode had almost everything: a phony racial controversy, an inaccurate (and subsequently withdrawn) news story, and hotheads going off half-cocked all around.

Maybe Moms for Liberty should ban the lot. In case you don’t know, the “Moms” are a fake grassroots organization out of Florida dedicated to turning American public schools into fundamentalist Christian academies. Or getting rid of them altogether, which may be the ultimate goal.

“Karens for Christ” might be a more accurate moniker.

Bless their hearts.

Where I live in Arkansas, people like them are in the ascendancy. The newspapers are filled with tales of sexual violence and child pornography anyway. A prominent holy man was recently convicted in Federal court of molesting young girls. These are not practices people learn at school.

When liberals strike similarly righteous poses, it’s called “virtue signaling,” and most people think it’s kind of silly.

Consider, by way of example, the recent case of the McMinn County, Tennessee school board removing the graphic novel Maus from the eighth-grade curriculum. It’s a harrowing tale of cats in Nazi uniforms sending whole families of cartoon mice to concentration camps, torturing, and killing them. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman tells the story of his parents, who survived the Holocaust. The school board voted unanimously to remove the book “because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.”

The shocking profanity consisted of the word “damn.” As for a naked cartoon mouse, have the Tennessee censors never noticed that Donald Duck wears no pants? Although like an actual duck, Uncle Donald has nothing but feathers between his legs. (Among domestic fowl, you pretty much have to BE a duck to tell the boys from the girls.)

Almost needless to say, this preposterous decision succeeded in pushing Maus to the head of best-seller list and causing many thousands, if not millions—of young readers to seek it out. Like Orwell’s Animal Farm, the book’s sheer power resides precisely in its use of a children’s fable to teach a harrowing lesson. Once read, Maus will never be forgotten.

It follows that the sheer futility of book-banning in today’s United States almost cannot be exaggerated. Nor is it entirely a right-wing phenomenon. As Nashville writer Margaret Renkl points out in her New York Times column: “Last year, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books List ‘for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a ‘white savior’ character, and its perception of the Black experience.’”

Sigh.

Besides, while the little cherubs aren’t listening to their teacher drone on about Harper Lee, 1984, or some equally impenetrable text, what they’re listening to on their iPhones is Cardi B’s WAP, a coarse ditty about a boastful strumpet’s use of her… Well, there’s no polite word, and the clinical terms have come to sound dirtier than the unprintable ones. That thing Trump boasted about grabbing.

My point’s a simple one. The culture war’s over, and your side lost. So did mine. See, there’s this thing called the Internet out there, and it has changed everything about what children learn and how they learn it except the way school boards and old fools like you and me talk about it. For that matter, probably nothing so renders a once-incendiary book harmless as being required in a high school English or history class.

Make me education czar and students wouldn’t be permitted to bring their accursed phones to school at all—the contemporary equivalent of Hans Brinker sticking his finger in the dike to ward off a tsunami.

And if you recognize that allusion, you’re an old pedant too.

Republicans Are Suddenly Banning Books--Here's Why

As Daily Kos continues to cover, Republicans are more than happy to distract the general public from failures to lead amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Hospitals filling up? Spew anti-trans rhetoric. People can’t afford groceries? Don’t let trans folks change their birth certificates! Thousands of people dying from COVID-19 every single day? Let’s burn books.

And no, that isn’t being dramatic. A truly concerning number of conservatives have jumped on the train of trying to get books banned from school and public libraries, if not outright calling for texts to be burned. Many of these books involve (or were created by) people of color and LGBTQ+ people. As reported by The Guardian, many of the people and groups pushing this anti-book mission along are connected to “deep-pocketed right-wing donors.”

As the Guardian breaks down in an excellent, thorough deep-dive, you’ve likely seen these book ban stories framed as though it’s just concerned parents or residents who are speaking up at school board meetings. In reality, groups that at first seem like they’re local, grassroots efforts seem to actually be tied to—and backed by—conservative donors who carry some serious influence.

Moms for Liberty, for example, comes up. As the Guardian discovered, Moms for Liberty groups can be found on Parents Defending Education (PDE), and the groups wrote a joint letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona last spring. What about? Critical race theory, of course. PDE’s website also encourages people to run for school board positions as conservatives.

The president of PDE? Nicole Neilly, who once worked at the Cato Institute and served as the executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum. Cato, for the curious, is a right-wing thank tank co-founded by none other than Charles Koch. Meanwhile, the vice president of PDE, Asra Nomani, has made time to rally against books on none other than Fox News.

If attacking books by and about marginalized people hasn’t been an obvious enough mission, the ties between these seemingly local groups suggest a much bigger trickle-down of money, values, and influence. How many parents and teachers swept into this hysteria know this? It’s hard, if not impossible, to accurately assess that. But for the students who are having valuable books taken from them, the outcome is the same.

At this point, we’ve seen Republican elected officials push anti-book bills in order to keep the work of LGBTQ folks and people of color from the hands of young readers. We’ve seen public librarians essentially threatened and harassed over keeping age-appropriate, diverse books on the shelves. We’ve seen conservative school board members try to get young readers tattled on to their parents for checking out LGBTQ+ books from the school library. It’s sick, it’s divisive, and it’s pointless.

Make sure to check out the Guardian’s full deep-dive here.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Inside 'Moms For Liberty' And Its Activism Against Civil Rights And Real History

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Moms for Liberty, a conservative "parental rights" organization strategically harassing school board members, teachers, and administrators across the country, is deeply tied to anti-civil rights advocacy. Beyond opposing education about the history of racism in America, the organization also recommends reading an American history book by a far-right conspiracy theorist that is sympathetic to slave owners, and the co-founder of the organization actively opposed desegregation efforts while formerly serving on her school board.

The organization's staunch opposition to teaching "critical race theory" (CRT) perfectly fits in with its connection to anti-civil rights advocacy. CRT is actually a body of specific academic and legal scholarship, but this group and others have self-servingly (and incorrectly) rewritten the definition to essentially encompass any discussion of race or oppression.

Now, Moms for Liberty appears to be revamping its anti-civil rights movement under the guise of "parental liberty" — a seemingly innocuous term that is really a catch-all for opposition to equity in public education.

Moms For Liberty Opposes CRT

Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich has claimed that the group actually has not "taken a stance on CRT," saying that its goal is simply to "empower parents to stand up and reclaim their parental rights at all levels of government" and that it tries to "support our local chapters and things that they're fighting for."

But a June article in the far-right Epoch Times reported that "Descovich believes that CRT is divisive" and "denies the value of an individual based on the content of their character and their actions." The national group's official social media pages have repeatedly posted anti-CRT content, including "#StopCRT" hashtags as recently as October 14.

As of June 13, the group's website had an anti-CRT page titled "Help Moms for Liberty Stop Critical Race Theory"; it has since been deleted. The group had another since-deleted page titled "Mama Lions are Waking Up" which described CRT as a "nationwide battle that is coming to a district near you" and recommended anti-CRT resources. Moms for Liberty even tried to solicit donations through anti-CRT messaging — "Donate Here to Help us Fight Critical Race Theory."

It appears that Moms for Liberty is attempting to rebrand and wipe anti-CRT resources and statements from its public website -- while its continued anti-CRT advocacy tells a different story.

Moms for Liberty chapters are broken down by counties, and those county chapters often hold anti-CRT events. In Williamson County, Tennessee, the chapter hosted "CRT 101," inviting speakers who claim to have previously taught CRT and now "repudiate" it.

Robin Steenman, head of the Williamson County Moms for Liberty Chapter, vocally opposes CRT, saying, "Critical race theory claims to solve racial discrimination by promoting racial discrimination. It is based on inherently racist assumptions and views virtually every situation through the lens of race." She also described CRT as "destructive and divisive" and "used to plant seeds that oppression and racism are everywhere."

The same county chapter created a list of "books of concern," opposing the teaching of Martin Luther King Jr. and the March to Washington because of "photographs of political violence" and Ruby Bridges Goes To School because of "racist remarks" among other things. The group also disapproved of First Nations of North America: Plains Indians because it "paints white people in a negative light."

Moms for Liberty Recommends Text By Slavery Sympathizer, Conspiracy Theorist

Nationally, Moms for Liberty recommends The Making of America by W. Cleon Skousen as a "helpful" text "when discussing the founding documents" of the United States.

Skousen's The Making of America makes the argument that "slavery is not a racial problem," claiming:

In the history of the world, nearly every nation has had slaves. The Chinese kept thousands of slaves. Babylon boasted of slaves from a dozen different countries.
The dark-skinned Hittites, Phoenicians, and Egyptians had white slaves. The Moors had black slaves. America had black slaves. The Nazis had white slaves. The Soviets still do, with several million white slaves wearing out their starved, near-naked bodies in slave labor camps.
So the emancipation of human beings from slavery is an ongoing struggle. Slavery is not a racial problem. It is a human problem.

Skousen's book is also sympathetic to slave owners, calling them "the worst victims" and writing that "in some ways, the economic system of slavery chained the slave owners almost as much as the slaves." Skousen himself was a supporter of the John Birch Society, an anti-civil rights organization that claimed the "African-American freedom movement was being manipulated from Moscow with the goal of creating a 'Soviet Negro Republic' in the Southern United States."

He was also an extreme conspiracy theorist, as Mother Jones reported, claiming that "a global cabal of bankers controlled the world from behind the scenes" and "communists were taking over local PTAs." Even more, Skousen believed that "the civil rights movement, acceptance of homosexuality, the rise of abstract art and modernism, and the advent of Medicare, Social Security, and other safety-net programs have all been part of a clandestine plot waged by Communists or other dark forces to destroy the United States."

(The group's "Madison Meetup" kit also includes material from Skousen's son, Paul, to use for "discussion prompts and questions.")

Moms for Liberty Leader Opposed Desegregation And Harassed School Board Members

Moms for Liberty has also strategically harassed public school officials, most notably Jennifer Jenkins, a Brevard County School Board member who unseated co-founder Descovich. Jenkins traced harassment in her district, which consisted of violent threats, and even a false report to the Florida Department of Children and Families wrongly accusing her of child abuse, back to the beginning of Moms for Liberty protests during school board meetings.

Co-founder Tiffany Justice, a former Indian River County School Board member, attempted to interfere with and "intimidate" her district's African American achievement committee and was criticized by the NAACP. Justice allegedly took "over direction of committee meetings and altered agendas while failing to clarify that she speaks as a private citizen, using her clout to direct school staff on the committee while ignoring citizen volunteers' recommendations."

The Indian River County School Board has been under a desegregation order since 1967. In 1994, the county's NAACP chapter brought the district back to court over unmet desegregation standards. In 2017, the board had still not met the court ordered desegregation criteria. In 2018, it came to a partial agreement with the NAACP in which the court would no longer "oversee integration of school facilities, the ratio of black non-teaching staff to white, and the ratio of black administrators to white administrators." The agreement also reduced NAACP "oversight of the desegregation process."

After this agreement was reached, in an effort to ensure that the district had a racially diverse population, the board considered "rezoning portions of the district" because it had become "increasingly segregated." Justice opposed busing students in, arguing, as Vero News put it, that it would be "costly and create discomfort" among parents.

Indian River County's school district has both academic and disciplinary racial achievement gaps, according to the district's African American Achievement Plan. The report notes that Black students receive higher rates of suspension than white students and have lower education performances.

Justice has also been an outspoken critic of CRT, claiming that it "creates a hostile culture in our schools and damages students' intellectual growth."

Taken together, the group's anti-CRT advocacy, conspiratorial reading list, and opposition to desegregation show the malicious anti-civil rights intent behind Moms for Liberty's campaign for so-called "parental rights" in education.