The New Yorker Comes to Tennessee
And The Education Report nears a milestone
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The New Yorker recently brought its education reporting to Tennessee to cover the shenanigans of Moms for Liberty - a group I once called “Moms for McCarthyism” because of their penchant for blacklisting educators and education materials.
Here’s a snippet from the piece that describes how Moms for Liberty is seeking to shape education policy in Tennessee and around the country:
Early last year, as Moms for Liberty was receiving its first wave of national media attention, Ragan introduced “anti-C.R.T.” legislation. He wanted to ban teaching about white privilege or any other concepts that might cause students “discomfort or other psychological distress” because of their race or sex. The wording parroted talking points from Moms for Liberty, which parroted Trump, who parroted Rufo. Around the time that Moms for Liberty members began showing up at Williamson County school-board meetings, Steve Bannon, the former Trump adviser, said on his video podcast that “the path to save the nation is very simple—it’s going to go through the school boards.” Calling mothers “patriots,” he urged a “revolt.”
Here’s what that turned into:
Once the Governor signed the bill into law, Moms for Liberty would be able to devise complaints arguing that certain elements of public instruction violated a Tennessee statute. Violators could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars, potentially draining resources. Steenman, appearing on Blackburn’s video podcast, “Unmuted with Marsha,” let slip a tactical detail: the moment Tennessee’s new law took effect, Moms for Liberty would have a complaint against Wit & Wisdom “ready to go” to the state. Blackburn praised Steenman as “the point of the spear.”
And here’s a previous report on the tactics employed by the group:
CNN reports on the hunt for curriculum deemed objectionable by activists in the McCarthy Mom group:
“The school bus goes right in front of my house and my kid is dying to ride it,” she told CNN. “But not until I have deemed that the curriculum is safe and will do no harm.” Steenman is counting on a new Tennessee law to force schools to end that curriculum — and ban at least one book in the elementary school library written from the perspective of Mexican Americans.
The group’s antics have created chaos at school board meetings and attacked student groups . . . and even seahorses:
The chapter has grabbed headlines for belligerent protests at school board meetings. They have attacked a high school LGBTQ pride float — one tweet wondered if students passing out pride literature were doing “recruitment.” And another meeting featured a tirade by a Moms For Liberty member against a children’s book about the lives of seahorses, which she said was too sexual.
The bottom line, as The New Yorker piece notes, is that this group is part of a larger national effort to drive school privatization by way of undermining confidence in public education.
This note is particularly interesting:
Steenman, in an official complaint to the Tennessee Department of Education, wrote, “There does not have to be a textbook labeled ‘Critical Race Theory’ for its harmful tenets to be present in a curriculum.” At the C.R.T. 101 event, she took the stage and told the audience that the threat of “Marxist” indoctrination at school could be vanquished by opposing “activist” teachers, curricula, and diversity-driven policy.
The idea that there is a cadre of activist, Marxist teachers in Tennessee’s classrooms is, frankly, absurd. The further idea that by reading about seahorses or the civil rights movement, Tennessee students will somehow be turned into radical socialists reflects a disturbing disconnect from reality.
Of course, fomenting this type of discord helps further the agenda of Gov. Bill Lee and others who continue to advance a school privatization agenda. In fact, up until late September, it appeared likely the state would welcome three Hillsdale-college affiliated charter schools into suburban districts - over the objections of local school boards in each of those districts.
Make no mistake, the Moms for Liberty efforts are part of a larger, national attempt to undermine public education:
Moms for Liberty’s role in the broader war on public schools became ever clearer in July, at the group’s inaugural national summit, in Tampa. DeSantis, who delivered a key address, was presented with a “liberty sword.” Another headliner was Trump’s former Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, whose family has connections to Hillsdale. To an enthusiastic crowd that included Steenman, DeVos declared that the U.S. Department of Education—the agency that she once oversaw—should not exist.