Robin Steenman, head of MfL’s chapter in Williamson County, a suburb of Nashville, wrote to the state education department in June claiming that the “dark and divisive” curriculum “makes children hate their country, each other, and/or themselves”.
Yet the campaign has become a grab bag of parental objections to everything from the history of the Plains Indians (”paints white people in a negative light”) through cannibalism in Greek myths to a book about animals that focuses too much on poisonous ones.
Books about Martin Luther King Jr, civil rights pioneer Ruby Bridges, native American history, African legends and the mating habits of seahorses have been branded “not appropriate” for young children by a right-wing parents’ group in Tennessee.
Moms for Liberty (MfL), a national conservative campaign founded in January to oppose left-wing ideas in education, is fighting to ban a curriculum that teaches children aged seven and eight about America’s history of racism under Tennessee’s new law against “critical race theory”.
A spreadsheet of parents’ reviews circulated by MfL’s Williamson County chapter, first reported by the Daily Beast, names 31 books as not appropriate for their age grades.
It raps Francis Ruffin’s Martin Luther King Jr and the March to Washington for including photos of political violence, marks down Ruby Bridges’ autobiography for including the N-word, and criticises an article about Alabama police chief Bull Connor’s infamous brutality towards civil rights protesters for giving a “negative view of firemen and police”.
Why do Mosquitoes Buzz in Peoples Ears, a storybook recounting a West African folk legend, is marked inappropriate because an animal dies. Seahorse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea gets a fail for giving too much detail about seahorse reproduction, which involves female seahorses depositing eggs into a male’s pouch, where they gestate and hatch.
Other books are marked as appropriate but criticised on ideological grounds. One book about the astronomer Galileo Galilei is accused of being too negative towards the Catholic Church, which convicted him of heresy and placed him under house arrest for the rest of his life.
Tennessee’s Republican government has banned schools from teaching children that anyone is “privileged” due to their skin colour or from making students feel “discomfort, guilt [or] anguish” because of their race or sex.
The law specifically targets critical race theory, a school of legal philosophy that has been repurposed by conservative activists as a catch-all term for teachings about race that are “divisive” or hateful towards white people.
MfL has asked state officials to retire a curriculum called Wit and Wisdom, which was created by the Washington DC non-profit Great Minds and focuses on texts about race, civil rights and colonisation.
On its website, M4A’s Williamson County chapter claims that the spreadsheet represents only the views of individual parents who submitted reviews of each book.
But Ms Steenman, who does not have any children in the county’s public schools, has touted the parents’ reviews in a presentation and replicates some of the same points in her letter.
In a statement posted on her chapter’s website, Ms Steenman said she was not seeking to ban any of the books from schools but to change the age at which they tare taught.
She said her group did not object to the books in isolation but to the curriculum and lesson plans instructing teachers how to incorporate them into class exercises and discussions.
She said: “The books by themselves are heavy enough. Marry that up with the teachers manual, and you have nine weeks (34 lessons) on injustice…
“If only the bad and none of the good is presented, no wonder we have kids that are suddenly ashamed of their skin colour, feel oppressed due to their skin colour, and want nothing to do with their country. The ideology and agenda of Wit and Wisdom is unmistakeable.”