by Mary Harrington
Wednesday, 24
August 2022
Spotted
11:39

How Covid mobilised America’s moms

The most fearsome group in society has been politically activated
by Mary Harrington
Don’t mess with moms (Photo by Reece T. Williams/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

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?”

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Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 month ago

My kids were in school beginning in the mid-nineties. I didn’t need zoom to learn what was happening in their classrooms because I and many other parents were actively involved. Even when the kids were in middle and high school, I checked their homework assignments and the text books they were using. When political propaganda was being pushed, the teacher and principal heard from me. I’m glad there are moms (and dads) fighting the ideological insanity being pushed by today’s bad “educators”, but this isn’t some new, tech-driven phenomenon. Being involved, showing up, and not treating school like a club you don’t belong to has always been the parents’ job.

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 month ago

I think since the late 1990’s – like the story of the frog in a pan slowly being warmed up, the parents were lolled by the gently heat and were thinking how nice the ‘hot tub’ was…then the insane weird sexualizing of children in school became noticed from the closures – the parents were jolted to the fact they were being cooked…….

or as frogs make such a good analogy…

a scorpion needed to cross a stream and asked a frog to give him a lift on his back across. The frog said he dare not as the scorpion was deadly. The scorpion assured the frog: “why would I hurt you when you are doing me a favor?” So the frog did so – and as the scorpion got off his back on the other side he stung the frog. The frog asked in his pain, “Why did you sting me?” and the scorpoin replied “I am a scorpion, I cannot stop myself….”

haha, the woke left…..

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 month ago

I think this is accurate. We had some very non political Mom friends who became political organizers over school closures. They were vilified as racist, etc, but soldiered on. In the US school boards have become the new political battleground. I think progressives are going to regret this because almost all parents prefer traditional teaching and don’t want politics in the classroom. So if they have a slate to vote for on those issues – they will choose it.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago

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.”
Mary I don’t agree, though I’m coy to do so with your undoubted insight (until now). From my own (male) perspective the fightback in the U.K. hasn’t been led by the grassroots such as Mumsnet – which has basically whinged in the background about injustices and made some direct impact; but the bulk of the fightback has been led by a few incredibly heroic individuals who have exposed themselves to career destruction, mockery, death and rape threats. JK obviously, Stock, Bailey, the people who started Sex Matters, LGB Alliance, and other similar groups, but also Graham Linehan, Wings Over Scotland (whose nationalist politics I totally disagree with) – none of these, some of which I’ve directly supported, were as far as I’m aware germinated by grassroots activists from Mumsnet. In fact I’d say Mumsnet has been hugely limited by its need to be apolitical. Am I completely wrong on this interpretation?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Oops forgot Debbie – sorry! And of course Stephen Nolan, with his famous Stonewall investigation. In fact I’d say this maybe triggered the landslide against it all.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Stewart
Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Excellent list.
I remember reading in Mumsnet some time ago about the “redefinition of woman” in Scotland. I used to think that whoever wrote those were unhinged or some kind of ultra orthodox feminist.
Little did I know…
Has Mumsnet played a role? I think it was mainly useful as a place where to exchange ideas with like-minded individuals when these things were not mainstream yet, but the big impact was made by the people in your list.
Also, don’t forget Lia Thomas; that was a watershed for many.

Thorunn Sleight
Thorunn Sleight
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

“Coy”? Don’t you mean reluctant?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago

hmmm – rather amusingly ironic correction – have I subconsciously used a ‘feminine’ equivalent of reluctant?

Simon S
Simon S
1 month ago

Generally speaking, while the PTAs seem to operate in this manner with this power in the public school system in the US, I think this is much less so in the private schools. In the private schools, in spite of the enormous fees they pay, families are too cowed to protest. The families are laser-focused on securing maximum school support for their child’s chances of securing a place in a top – private – college/university. They do not rock the boat. They behave. They conform. And in those private colleges – elite institutions for which they shell out up to $80,000 a year for four years in order for their children to access the social and business networks that will help preserve their footing amongst the country’s governing classes, and help them prosper further – their children are even more silent.
Our “cisgender” heterosexual son is currently undergoing orientation as a fortunate freshman in a college with a brutal 10% acceptance rate. Luckily for him he long ago learned the LGBTQIA+ acronym and associated etiquettes (although I believe the latest iteration at his college is longer) and has learned to navigate them in a sure-footed way, without relinquishing his own neutral perspective and with a healthy suspicion of progressive authoritarian dogmas. But there is no way in hell he will speak out. And we, facing a monumental bill, certainly won’t. For good or for ill, eyes wide open, we will protect our investment.
If only our students could channel their energies into anti-war protests like we did. But no, let the bombs rain on.

Last edited 1 month ago by Simon S
Rob Nock
Rob Nock
1 month ago
Reply to  Simon S

Cisgender son? Ooh, you mean son! Well, if he doesn’t learn to stand up for what is right and against these ‘progressive’ bullies he will never become a man, cisgender or otherwise.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob Nock

I was wandering too what kind of son that was.

Simon S
Simon S
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob Nock

That is a mean-hearted comment fortunately atypical among Unherd commenters. “Cisgender” is clearly used ironically but that appears to be lost on you. I have added inverted commas to make it easier for you. As for whether our son should place his head above the parapet, you try. It would be shot off. That is the whole point of my post. But you evidently have no idea about the harsh realities of modern-day college life – and probably still less of the modern corporate world, where a response such as yours would make you unemployable.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
1 month ago
Reply to  Simon S

The point is, successfuly resisting the Behemoth requires sacrifice in large and small ways. Refusing to pay for your son’s tuition should at least be considered.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  Simon S

Great post. For anyone who’s interested in how the US education system works for those people wealthy enough to afford private education, I’d recommend the book “Guilty Admissions” by Nicole LaPorte.
The book chronicles the Varsity Blue scandal where wealthy parents, notably actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, were caught cheating to secure places for their kids at top US universities. LaPorte describes the competition these kids and parents face, even as early as kindergarten. Some of the top kindergartens in the LA area, for example, are highly selective and expensive with application processes almost as daunting as those for college. Parents are expected to donate to the schools at each level of their kid’s education which creates a culture that almost normalizes providing kickbacks to ensure their kids’ advancement.
I’m glad to hear your son recognizes that progressive dogma is basically nonsense and manages to retain his own opinion and common sense, albeit secretly. I sincerely hope more kids are as smart and grounded as him.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago

One of my sons went to a state sixth form. The Geography and Psychology A levels teaching didn’t seem infected by anything woke, and although his Chemistry teacher was rabidly left-wing and never lost a chance to present imaginative lies about Tory policy while urging her students to vote for Corbyn, as far as I could see there was no attempt to decolonising the Chemistry syllabus.
Clearly things are not quite at US levels of propaganda yet.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

“Chemistry teacher was rabidly left-wing and never lost a chance to present imaginative lies about Tory policy while urging her students to vote for Corbyn,”

Sounds like we are well on course to reach US levels of propoganda though.

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
1 month ago

It seems that Covid opened a window directly into the classroom. This made it difficult to for some to hide things and others to ignore them. Perhaps there was something of a silver lining to the pandemic.

Jim R
Jim R
1 month ago

“The most dogged, well-organized and self-sacrificing demographic there is”. Cringe. I’ve met a few of “the nation’s mothers” – I think there’s a strong case to be made they are one of the most culpable demographics in the woke tyranny. Or maybe this whole line of argument pitting demographic groups against eachother is just more of the same nonsense that got us here.

Jim R
Jim R
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim R

Thanks for all the down-votes ladies! Imagine the gall of suggesting that mothers are not the “most self-sacrificing” people on earth. As a divorced father removed from the lives of my children by a ‘self-sacrificing mother’ (who hasn’t worked in 25 years because she’s too busy trying to live her most fulfilled life spending my money) I really have trouble with these sexist stereotypes. Safetyism is one of the greatest scourges of our time and it is almost entirely perpetuated by mothers (and some fathers) putting themselves and their overwhelming fear of loss over and above the very basic developmental needs of children to understand and take risk. That’s about the most selfish thing any parent can do – look around at your kids and how terrified and dysfunctional they are. I’m not saying mothers are ‘worse’ than fathers – I’m merely objecting to mothers being placed above everyone else. Mothering a child is not a virtue in itself.

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim R

Isn’t it a bit silly to compete for “the most self-sacrificing”? Like the horrible old saying that the leper envies the syphilitic! The important thing here is that parents are waking up to the dangers of the dry-cleaner mode of education: drop your child off at 8, pickup them up at 3, they’ve been adequately processed. That model put power into the hands of the ed mafia, and as we know, power corrupts. This is a unifying moment in the families of America. It has surfaced many 1st and 10th Amendment issues.

Thorunn Sleight
Thorunn Sleight
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim R

Totally agree with you, though I must say that your bitter comments about your wife indicate that she needs to become your ex-wife ASAP…

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim R

For sure, women in general are one of the most culpable demographics in Woke tyranny. I would argue the most culpable.

Brett H
Brett H
1 month ago

What is going on here? Mumsnet either is responsible for the pushback against school or it is not. Even if this is all opinion surely there must be evidence of one or the other. How can we go on like this with every fact disputed?

Aidan Barrett
Aidan Barrett
27 days ago

You may appreciate this 1992 book The Politics of Liberal Education and in particular the chapter by the ever prophetic pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty, Two Cheers for the Cultural Left

https://books.google.ca/books?id=Cds_cZtYcScC&pg=PA233&lpg=PA233&dq=richard+rorty+two+cheers+for+the+cultural+left&source=bl&ots=nMaRxeqT2P&sig=ACfU3U23aqYTaYBfCPssEwPgwd5uQch3tw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjqo5OdoL_1AhXkkYkEHetDC8cQ6AF6BAgQEAM#v=onepage&q=richard%20rorty%20two%20cheers%20for%20the%20cultural%20left&f=false

This quote in particular seems jaw-dropping (and disturbing) in retrospect:

“Hirsch and I would, I think, agree that the primary and secondary schools should continue to pass along most of the conventional wisdom of the previous generation-to socialize the children by inculcating the standard, patriotic, upbeat, narrative about our society, it history, and its values. In the first place, there is no chance of getting them to do anything else; the system of local school boards insures this, and any other system of control would probably be worse. Even if Henry Giroux someday succeeds William Bennett as Secretary of Education, as I hope he may, he will not be able to prevent precollege education from being nine parts socialization to one part liberation. Nor should he try, since you cannot liberate a tabula rasa; you cannot make a free individual out of an unsocialized child. You can gradually alter patterns of socialization, but cultural revolution, in which the government tries to turn the children against their parents by promulgating a new primary and secondary curriculum, has not proved to be a good idea” (p. 236 – 237).