Revolt of the ‘Karens’

Back in 2020, while speaking at a conference in Charleston, South Carolina, a young man from the Midwest introduced himself during the question and answer period as a candidate for a seat on his local county school board. He confessed it was his first time running for political office, and wondered whether anyone on the panel might offer him any useful advice. As the last to respond, I suggested his best strategy might be to get local mothers behind him. I didn’t realize, at the time, that this practical advice was already becoming a groundswell. In Florida, an organization called Moms for Liberty (MfL) was already organizing for precisely this purpose and would soon be a potent force on both the state and national political scene.

Today, there are 310 MfL chapters in 48 states, with a total of over 130,000 members. They have focused their efforts primarily on gaining control of local school boards. Inspired, at first, to combat mask mandates during the COVID hysteria, they have more recently been active in trying to rid public schools of the malign influence of Critical Race Theory and transgenderism.

Nationwide in 2023, over 50 percent of the MfL-endorsed schoolboard candidates were elected, which is astonishing when one considers how much resistance they have faced from the public-education mafia and the various organizations that have sprung up to counter their growing influence.

In Charleston County, where I reside, MfL-endorsed candidates took several school board seats last November and are now a majority. Local opponents, of course, are furious at the result. Indeed, when the local chapter invited school board chairman, Keith Grybowski, to address their meeting in Mt. Pleasant, a group of protesters stood outside the chapter house to express their displeasure. Alan Morris, who heads the local chapter of a group formed in opposition to MfL, Defense of Democracy, described it as a “conflict of interest” on the part of Grybowski, since the MfL meeting was closed to the public.

The placards carried by the protestors were revealing: “STOP M4L HATE,” “LET FREEDOM READ,” “WE TRUST LIBRARIANS,” “WE TRUST TEACHERS,” “READ WITH PRIDE,” and “PRESERVE BLACK HISTORY.”

Defense of Democracy (DoD), according to its website, was formed specifically to “fight back” against MfL school board candidates and to support “educators who present historically and scientifically accurate information.” The group originated in New York state and makes no secret of its leftist/LGBTQ agenda, proclaiming further on its website that they encourage “initiatives that enhance Americans’ shared experiences regardless of race, color, national origin, language, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, religion, or functional ability.” DoD’s founders, Karen Svoboda and Laura Leigh Abby, began organizing against MfL in May 2020 and asked members to swear a pledge to oppose “Christofascist” and “Christian Nationalist” groups seeking to undermine “free and diverse” public schools, according to Influence Watch.

DoD, like other like-minded groups, is fond of pretending that our public schools are threatened by a tidal wave of Christian Nationalism. They want us to believe that the moms in MfL are seeking to “infuse their Christian values” into the school curricula, even as they appear oblivious to the fact that what they’re advocating, the removal of all Christian influence from public education, itself constitutes imposing a set of private, secular values—values which, like transgenderism, are often antithetical to those which millions of American parents seek to foster in their children.

Defense of Democracy, like other critics of MfL, typically parrot the talking points of groups like MediaMatters for America and the Southern Poverty Law Center. A screed published on the MediaMatters website late in 2021 is a virtual catalog of such charges:

  • MfL is “using parents as pawns … to advance a far-right agenda.”
  • MfL is closely aligned with Republican power brokers and is not, as it claims, truly a “grassroots” organization.
  • MfL pushes a “conspiratorial” worldview, according to which our schools have been infiltrated by “globalists, utopians, totalitarians and the U.N., et al., who seek to undermine our freedom and the Christian faith.”
  • On behalf of its powerful allies MfL is engaged in “manufacturing outrage” and routinely employs intimidation and “scare tactics” against school administrators, faculty and staff.”

Such claims, when not simply false, are either grossly exaggerated or given a sinister spin.

A “far-right agenda”? This is a matter of perspective, of course. Is it “far right” to encourage parents to oppose schools and school boards complicit in the movement for transgender rights, to oppose the gender transitioning of pre-adolescent children, or to seek to rid school libraries of obscene books or those that propagate so-called “antiracist” doctrines which are, in fact, thinly-veiled expressions of hatred for whites? If all this is now considered “far right,” then the term is almost devoid of meaning.

It is true that a number of high-profile Republican politicians, like Ron DeSantis, have endorsed and supported the work of MfL, which began in Florida. But claims that the Moms for Liberty chapters serve as a mere front group for right-wing power brokers is sheer fabrication. Media Matters, for example, claims that MfL has “partnered” with Parents Defending Education (PDE), an organization said to be affiliated with and funded by the Koch brothers. The evidence for this claim is that Tiffany Justice, one of the MfL national leaders, posted an announcement on Facebook stating that MfL had ”partnered with Parents Defending Education and 20+ others in sending a letter to Secretary [Miguel] Cardona opposing the Dept. of Education’s plan to inject politicized curriculum into our public schools.”

One wonders, moreover, why it should be considered “conspiratorial” that an organization like the UN is seeking to influence public schools—in America and elsewhere—with leftist gender ideology, when as recently as July 2023, in a proclamation entitled “Our Common Agenda: Transforming Education,” the UN highlighted the need to empower education through a gender-sensitive curriculum free of harmful gender stereotypes” and work against “discrimination against women and sexually diverse persons [emphasis added].” Indeed, over the course of the last decade the UN, under the auspices of its “LBGTI Core Group,” has repeatedly endorsed or encouraged statements seeking to eliminate what it calls “discrimination” against “gender diversity.”

Especially revealing are the frequent attacks on MfL for its supposed use of harassment and intimidation against those who oppose its agenda. At the most extreme, MfL members have been accused of directing death threats at school board members and school principals. But such claims prove little, since they emanate from those who have a political stake in destroying group’s reputation, and the few documented reports of death threats almost always turn out to have been anonymous. Moms for Liberty leaders have repeatedly denied responsibility for and disavowed such behavior by unhinged individuals, though posting the private phone numbers of one’s political enemies is admittedly a risky business. That said, such tactics have been commonplace on the left for years, so it is more than a little ironic that radical exponents of LGBTQ+ ideology are now squealing about the use of tactics that they and their friends pioneered.

Also revealing is the appropriation of the term “Karen” to attack and demean the women in Moms for Liberty. After the Southern Poverty and Law Center listed MfL in its “Year in Hate and Extremism” one sympathetic reporter, Zack Linley, wrote, “Chief among these groups is the coalition of Karens who call themselves Moms for Liberty, which is only an accurate moniker if by ‘liberty’ they mean ‘freedom from white fragility-inducing learning materials.’” A term that originated some years ago as a slang denoting the self-centered behavior of entitled middle-class Caucasian women, has now become an all-purpose slur for conservative white women who refuse to shut up. If the members of MfL were aggressively pushing a cause that had the liberal-left seal of approval, they would be applauded, but when they flaunt masking protocols at school board meetings and force members to listen as they read aloud from sexually explicit passages taken from materials approved by the librarians these board members are supposed to supervise—with titles like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl or The Infinite Moment of Us (passages may be sampled here)—they are reviled and belittled.

That these Moms have the courage of their convictions is more than laudable. Indeed, it might be argued that they have become the vanguard in the latest stage of our seemingly endless culture wars. Yet from the perspective of many on the right, including conservative traditionalists and tens of thousands of homeschooling families, the  priorities of Moms for Liberty are open to question.

Why waste so much valuable energy on a public education system that, in addition to being morally and intellectually bankrupt, is completely in the thrall of graduates of America’s schools of education which themselves are little more than propaganda? Even if our school libraries were thoroughly cleansed of obscene and politically correct materials, and even if all the problematic principals and groomers (i.e. guidance counselors) could be canceled and the publishers of pro-LBGTQ textbooks driven out of business, our schools would still be festering sores on America’s body politic.

To be fair, there is some evidence that Moms for Liberty recognizes this problem—which probably explains why,  in some districts, the group has affiliated with the Hillsdale College system of classical charter schools. One such school, the Ashley River Classical Academy, is scheduled to open here in Charleston in the fall of 2024 and will have at least one MfL member on its board.

I asked Dr. Andrew Alwine, professor of classics at the College of Charleston, to look over the Ashley River Academy’s curriculum and assess its value. He confirmed that “the curriculum … is undoubtedly going to be better than anything on offer in public schools, and in that sense I welcome it. But it isn’t the full meal deal. It is just as much an experimental form of education as what goes on in the public schools [though]… its prospects are much better.”

The main problem, he adds, is that “it does not put Greek and Latin at the center of the curriculum as they have been for 2000 years. It is a spurious claim for a school to make pretensions to the august tradition of classical education because they follow the trivium … and use ‘Socratic method’ [meaning a modern style of teaching, with nothing to do with Socratic dialogues]. This would be akin to a new religion claiming to be ‘Christian’ because they believe in Sunday School and in reading old books.” Perhaps most importantly, he notes, Latin is required only through the 9th grade and is subsequently offered merely as an elective. Moreover, he notes, “There is no Greek in sight.”

Nevertheless, Moms for Liberty is certainly moving in the right direction. But aside from the weakness of the Hillsdale classical model, I would argue that a more radical and more effective move would be to back efforts that sever ties with the public schools entirely. While charter schools do have a degree of autonomy that most public schools lack, they remain vulnerable to government intervention, a distinction that ought, especially, to resonate with Hillsdale affiliated groups. For example, all charter schools in the state of South Carolina are funded by a combination of state and federal monies, hence they are subject to Title IX federal regulations, which are intended to ensure that students, teachers, and staff are protected from gender discrimination. As recently updated in May 2023 under the Biden regime, Title IX gender protections now include transgender individuals.

One promising alternative to charter schools is homeschooling in conjunction with privately organized “cottage schools,” a possibility that I hope to discuss at length in a future post.

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