It is now common knowledge that the efforts of the right to limit classroom discussion are all about marginalizing LGBTQ people under the guise of protecting children. But they also have a less obvious goal: to convince parents that children are threatened in the first place. That gentle teacher over there? She may well be scheming to pervert, indoctrinate and snatch her childhood innocence.
Caroline Mickey, the librarian at Alpine Crest Elementary School outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee, just learned this the hard way, when her idea for a Mother’s Day-themed class suddenly and heavily came under fire from parents in the area. The vitriol of the attack and the school district superintendent’s quick decision to cancel her class in response surprised her.
“It was overwhelming,” Mickey told me. “I didn’t know it was going to be this intense.”
The saga began when Mickey sent a message to parents about a scheduled class prior to Mother’s Day. She wrote that the lesson would be “sensitive to the fact that not all students live with a mother”, celebrating those who are not mothers but “filling the maternal roles in our lives”.
Mickey informed parents that two books would be read to children from kindergarten through second grade. One was “Stella Brings the Family,” about a girl who’s not sure how to handle a Mother’s Day party at school because she has two dads. The other was “Mother Bruce,” about a bear who adopts a bunch of goslings who believe he’s their mother.
“We have students who don’t have a mother for various reasons,” Mickey told me. “But everyone has someone who loves them like a mother does.”
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She offered parents the option to waive this lesson for their children. In accordance with school district policy, she offered them an alternative class.
Then Moms for Liberty — which restricts classroom discussions and removes books from school libraries across the country — sprang into action.
Members of the chapter in the red-leaning area around the Hamilton County school attacked the idea on social media and in local newspapers as Leninist indoctrination, anti-Christian and a threat to Western civilization. A woman called on locals to pray for children to protect them from the demonic threat posed by those children’s books.
A handful of particularly noisy parents in the neighborhood intervened. They savage Mickey as a “trimmer” and an enemy of it traditional birth mothers, some in long, incoherent rants, according to emails Mickey showed me.
After this pressure Justin Robertson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, canceled the class. According to an email from Robertson posted by the Tennessee Holler, a progressive local news site, he agreed that the class and books were unacceptable material.
It’s hard to see why. “Stella Brings the Family” isn’t really about her two dads. It’s about her fear of not fitting in with other kids with traditional birth mothers, and other kids’ insecurity about her situation. The protagonist in “Mother Bruce” faces the complications of acting as a mother to goslings despite being a male bear. Both books are listed on Amazon as suitable for preschoolers.
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“There’s nothing unusual about assigning books like this to first grade readers,” Jonathan Friedman, the director of free speech at PEN America, told me. “Written with young children in mind, they recognize the real world children live in — a world where parental figures can differ. Hiding these facts from children is not good for them or for the society in which they live.”
I’ve asked Robertson to elaborate his thinking, but he has yet to do that. Whatever its rationale, this chapter of Moms for Liberty is already known for regularly employing scorched-earth tactics, including hurling MAGA-type “pedophile” smears at enemies. You can understand why an educator wants to make the Moms for Liberty attack go away as soon as possible.
This is troubling for parents on the other side of this divide. As Taylor Lyons, who heads the local group Moms for Social Justice and regularly fights the region’s right-wing fighters, told me, “We were deeply disheartened by our district leadership’s reactionary response to a few complaints from far-right Puritan extremists.”
But as we’ve seen on other fronts, local officials are easily coerced into carrying out the bidding of small groups of far-right culture instigators. Lonely activists get piles of books banned on the basis of the slightest objection. Teachers are erasing controversial subjects from their curricula or being chased out of town.
Mickey, for her part, has had no choice but to accept the cancellation of her class. “It threw me,” she said. “I think I had higher expectations.” The new the policy of creating enemies, which constantly seeks to instill fear among and between parents and teachers, is working exactly as intended.
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