In the time since Moms for Liberty was officially established in 2021, the group has wielded considerable influence on school boards across the nation. The organization’s approach has often been to back school board candidates aligned with its philosophies and then launch attacks against public education. Moms for Liberty then seeks to ban, or restrict access to, books the group or those aligned with it find objectionable.
This strategy has found success in Carroll County. Two board of education members, Tara Battaglia and Steve Whisler, who were endorsed by Moms for Liberty, have signed its pledge, along with several other local politicians. The group has invited Whisler to sit on one of its panels at an upcoming town hall.
Carroll County Moms for Liberty has endorsed the two officially announced candidates in the 2024 board of education election — Greg Malveaux and Kristen Zihmer.
So, with Moms for Liberty allies gaining a foothold on the board of education, Carroll County Public Schools succumbed to the book ban. Moms for Liberty submitted requests to restrict access to 58 books. Because the review allows for five books a month, all those books have been removed from shelves until such reviews can take place.
In addition, each member of the review committee must have a copy of each book, which means quite a few books had to be purchased. The orders and receipts are readily available under the Public Information Act. The good news, I suppose, is that the orders qualified for free shipping. I would’ve much rather seen that money spent on laptops, tablets or even boxes of tissues for Carroll County students.
The first five books have been reviewed: “Slaughterhouse Five,” by Kurt Vonnegut; “Tilt,” by Ellen Hopkins; “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky; “The Sun and her Flowers,” by Rupi Kaur; and “Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture,” by Roxane Gay. “Slaughterhouse Five” will be removed permanently from middle school but retained in high school libraries, and the other four books will also be returned to high school library shelves. They are not yet back on the shelves, pending an appeal, which can take 30 days.
Many of the books Moms for Liberty and its allies are attacking in Carroll County have been on the shelves for years. I see no evidence of generations of traumatized young people due to exposure to them. Some of the books — including such classics as “The Bluest Eye,” “Slaughterhouse Five,“ “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Kite Runner,” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” — are supplemental materials for the AP literature course.
Books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a wonderful writer from Nigeria who opens a window onto life in a country wracked by civil war, are on the list. Yaa Gyasi and Rupi Kaur also give readers a look at cultures far away from Carroll County. Writing about LGBTQ characters and issues has landed authors including Steven Salvatore, Malinda Lo, George Johnson and Gabby Rivera on the list.
Nick Shockney, who has been appointed by Superintendent Cynthia McCabe to write response letters (which she signed), suggests that school libraries should only have books appropriate for the youngest students. This means elementary school libraries would only house books suitable for pre-K (4-year-olds), all the books in a middle school library would be suitable for 6th graders and all high school library books suitable for 9th graders.
I think I can safely say that the members of Moms for Liberty Carroll County have not read the majority, if any, of these books. Instead, they have developed and funded a website that searches for keywords that they find objectionable. They claim the books would be restricted due to “explicit sexual content,” which, in my opinion, is a euphemism for anyone or any group or thing they don’t like.
Carroll County residents, including educators like me, have looked into the origins of this group. Carroll families need to know more about who, exactly, is asserting so much influence over what children in Carroll County and elsewhere are allowed to read in school.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated Moms for Liberty as an extremist group and provides this synopsis: “Moms for Liberty is a far-right organization that engages in anti-student inclusion activities and self-identifies as part of the modern parental rights movement. The group grew out of opposition to public health regulations for COVID-19, opposes LGBTQ+ and racially inclusive school curriculum, and has advocated books bans.”
Moms for Liberty is among organizations that emerged as millions of Americans found themselves in various degrees of isolation during the pandemic. With so many people spending more time online, some banded together around their beliefs.
In a National Public Radio interview, Brian Levin, professor emeritus of criminal justice at California State University, San Bernardino, spoke about the proliferation of stereotyping and conspiracy theories among members of like-minded groups. Politicians and others in the public eye made comments that fueled resentment toward Blacks, Jews, LGBTQ+ people and others. Hate crimes against members of these communities spiked, Levin said.
Book banning and contentious school board meetings became more commonplace, he said.
While organizational links between Moms for Liberty and groups such as the Proud Boys, QAnon and Christian nationalist organizations have not been established, members of Moms for Liberty have been found to have ties to such groups, according to news reports. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio reportedly called Moms for Liberty “the gestapo with vaginas.” Judging from his track record, he considers that a compliment.
Cindy Rosenberg is a cellist, writer and educator living in South Carroll County.