The most fearsome group in society has been politically activated
What happens when the right side of history gets on the wrong side of a nation’s mothers? Progressives on both sides of the Atlantic are rapidly discovering the answer.
In Britain, this has been the energy behind several years’ running skirmishes between Stonewall-backed trans activists, and ordinary British mums. Gathering initially on Mumsnet, first in bafflement, then outrage and finally political mobilisation against extreme gender ideology, the result has been a grassroots political mobilisation that has chalked up a number of victories.
Lacking a forum such as Mumsnet, America has hitherto been behind the curve on mum activism. That seems to be changing — and the precipitating factor turned out to be Covid, and American teaching unions. When the pandemic struck, those unions’ demands for workplace safety saw some of the developed world’s most extended Covid school closures and strictest masking policies, whose negative impact on kids’ wellbeing is now acknowledged even by those who supported or didn’t oppose it.
The Stolen Year, a recent book by a broadcaster on the progressive-leaning state-funded US radio station NPR, Anya Kamenetz, documents the the disastrous effect closures had on children’s mental health, and disproportionate impact of learning loss on the poorest children. At the time, though, objections were slapped down, often accompanied by overheated rhetoric about death, danger and white privilege. And seeing their lonely kids spiral into mental illness and learning loss under school closures spurred numerous grassroots — and often cross-party — school reopening campaigns, by often previously apolitical mums.
But there was a secondary effect, too: Zoom schooling afforded mums a window into the content of their offspring’s lessons. And this revealed a curriculum radically altered from even a generation ago. Often influenced by “critical pedagogy”, a progressive doctrine whose aim is to subordinate all school teaching to the formation of new progressive activists, curricula may now see even the most innocuous subjects racialised or otherwise politicised. Even maths textbooks are not immune.
But when they pushed back, parents found teaching bodies as indifferent to their wishes on lesson content as they were to the misery of remote-schooled children. So in the time-honoured manner of PTA mums the world over, they mobilised. From its beginnings in early 2021 as a campaign against school closures, the grassroots, mum-powered campaigning network Moms for Liberty has grown to 100,000 members with chapters across the US. It’s been greeted with enthusiasm by conservative elites: Florida governor Ron DeSantis was a keynote speaker at the group’s July summit.
The primary focus of the campaign is simple but Gramscian in ambition: taking control of school boards, and thus of lesson content and schools policy. Of course non-progressive control of school boards would effectively mean, in time, ending the principal pipeline for manufacturing new progressives. Thus it’s unsurprising to find “moms” increasingly making an appearance on the ever-lengthening list of Things Which Are Now Far-Right.
But those now picking a fight with PTA mums, and traducing pushback as extremist, should consider whether this is a fight they can win. After all, if your aim is to roll out radical social changes without anyone noticing, your chances of winning are premised on the masses not caring enough to mobilise in opposition. And at ground level, in ordinary life, it’s almost always mums who show up and form committees to make life better in small ways, in small places. Ultra-progressive educators may regret taking on the most dogged, well-organised and self-sacrificing demographic there is.
And school radicals might also ask themselves if they should try and win this one. Or whether, if you find yourself suddenly on the other side of the battle from a significant subset of previously apolitical provincial mums, it might be time to ask yourself, like the often-memed Mitchell and Webb sketch: “Hans, are we the baddies?”