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Opinion: The school board battleground

Moms for Liberty want to stop indoctrination in schools, but they’re fighting fire with gasoline.
Image by Ava Weinreis

Do you know what your kids are being taught in school?

If you don’t, it’s pretty easy to find out. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act lets you request information about curricula. Most subjects have a relatively standardized curriculum you could find online, or you could ask your children’s teachers.

However, some parents are convinced their kids’ teachers are inundating them with harmful material meant to confuse them and distort their understanding of the world. Some would even say their kids are being groomed to believe whatever ideological slop they’re fed. They think some teachers are monsters hiding in plain sight and are teaching kids about diversity. Gasp!

“Historically, in most school board elections, the politics are local of the election,” said Scott Abernathy, a professor of political science in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. “But occasionally, national issues have come to dominate school board elections and the like.”

These parents are getting involved: they are protesting, lobbying and even running in local school board elections.

Moms for Liberty is a conservative political organization advocating for parental rights. They are outspoken in their mission to control public school curricula and are very clear about what they want to get rid of.

“Interest group members and others consciously try to shape the agenda, which is partly what’s happening now,” Abernathy said. 

Moms for Liberty takes the most issue with teachings on critical race theory, gender identity and sexuality, but these topics are hardly covered in most public schools.

The curricula of most schools don’t include the topics Moms for Liberty is up in arms about. Only 11 U.S. states mandate LGBTQ-inclusive or affirmative education and less than 4% of schools are mandated to teach critical race theory.

“There are terms that come to dominate, like critical race theory,” Abernathy said. “But when it gets talked about by, especially these extremist candidates, there’s not really a discussion of theories of critical race. It becomes, in politics, a catch-all term, as opposed to an exploration of the structure of systemic racism.”

Moms for Liberty proposes draconian policies to remove these teachings from public schools. Perhaps most notably, members of the movement have advocated banning books they deem unfit for children to read. For several years now, members have attended their local school board meetings en masse to demand “immoral” materials be jettisoned.

While the demand was initially to remove purportedly age-inappropriate materials from elementary school libraries, it has expanded into all levels of K-12 education. Book bans increased by 28% across the board in the first half of the 2022-23 academic year.

All of the contested books had to do with gender, sexuality or race. The most challenged book in 2022 was “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe. The book has become a boogeyman in extremist parental rights circles, with two trigger words right in the title.

“The books that are most commonly targeted are books exploring youth sexuality, sexual identity — those are the books that receive the sharpest attacks,” Abernathy said.

The books they want to ban underscore the organization’s depraved motivations. Their quest to control the narrative in public schools has been part of an effort to stifle diversity, both in thought and in substance, stripping away access to resources crucial to many students. Their approach raises frightening questions about the future of critical thinking and well-rounded education.

Getting rid of literature they deem inappropriate isn’t enough. Several members of the group have run for school board positions across the country, and in addition, their political action committee buttresses hard-right candidates with funds. With this level of power, they have the potential to alter curricula however they please, which has terrifying implications for children in their districts.

“Many of these conservative activist groups, they have national backing, national support. There’s certain wealthy conservative donors,” Abernathy said. “It varies somewhat, but there’s usually some national money or support behind these local groups.”

Without a thorough exploration of the diverse array of experiences in contemporary America, students risk missing out on crucial perspectives. Worse, many will not see themselves represented in their own educational materials. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Moms for Liberty wants.

Though their leaders claim they are a nonpartisan organization, Moms for Liberty is heavily conservative and has ties to the Republican Party. In addition, they are connected to such far-right groups as the Proud Boys and Gays Against Groomers, and itself has been termed a far-right extremist organization following numerous cases of harassment. Their platform is nothing but bigotry, and they tacitly forward a white supremacist agenda in their quest to undo centuries of progress.

Moms for Liberty’s dogma of revisionist history obliterates students’ ability to critically examine America as it is today. Without the context of America’s true history, its current state will have little nuance in the minds of the next generation besides “that’s just the way things are.”

With America’s true, sordid history effaced from the curriculum, students’ conceptions of demographic differences will be understood as innate. This will have devastating effects on oppressed Americans, perpetuate systemic biases, hinder progress toward true equity and deepen societal divisions that must be reckoned with for a more just and inclusive future.

Parents have a right to know what their kids are learning; exercising that right is easy. Parents do not have a right to impose an ideology on all students in the country, prohibit students from learning about their own people or throttle the First Amendment rights of children.

Children have always been a means to an end for totalitarian ideologues. In Moms for Liberty, we hear echoes of fascist regimes and their attempts to indoctrinate children (an Indiana chapter even quoted Hitler in a newsletter).

Moms for Liberty’s attempts to suppress critical education reflects their desire to collapse society into a dystopia where conformity triumphs over critical thinking, prejudice eclipses progress and fear smothers freedom. It is vital that we recognize these Moms for what they are: purveyors of a toxic ideology threatening the fabric of a free and enlightened society. 

And remember to vote in your local elections.

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