Will Homeschool Moms be Steve Bannon's Latest Political Shock Troops?Historians in the News
tags: conservatism, culture war, Steve Bannon, education history, critical race theory, Homeschooling
The conservative political movement has continually used schooling, especially homeschooling, as a cudgel in a larger political war over race, religion, and sex.
“The firestorm that you’re about to see,” Steve Bannon said recently, “is the American mothers. When you’ve got to go back to school and Fauci’s been talking about vaccinating the kids and using the school, going back to school as a forcing function between the mask and the CRT (critical race theory).”
Bannon’s podcast guests then urged parents to sign a pledge to homeschool their children during the week of Sept. 13 as a part of “peaceful noncompliance” under the hashtag of #ParentRising to protest school mask and vaccine mandates.
It’s not the first time that Donald Trump’s former chief strategist has put together women, race, and education. It was an undercurrent of his 2010 Citizens United movie, Fire from the Heartland, which featured conservative leaders like Phyllis Schlafly, Michele Bachmann and Dana Loesch, who’d each been vocal advocates for homeschooling as a socially conservative respite from all that was supposedly wrong with public education. And now it’s key to Bannon’s 2022 congressional electoral strategy.
But this story has been told long before Bannon entered the national stage. In fact, it features in what experts have called the mecca of the conservative movement: Kanawha County, West Virginia, and the Textbook War of 1974. Others, like journalist Rick Perlstein and education historians Gillian Frank and Adam Laats, have revealed the similarities between what happened in Kanawha County and what’s happening today, but the close connection to the homeschooling movement has often been left out.
The short, painful version of this history centers around the choice of reading materials for local public schools and violent opposition to including civil rights leaders such as Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X. Locals, like school board member Alice Moore, were incensed by these new readings, which they perceived as vulgar, and were ready to fight. The protest Moore organized to oppose the textbooks, though it started locally, soon became national. Much like Bannon has today, groups like Paul Weyrich’s newly-formed Heritage Foundation, the John Birch Society, and even the KKK saw a cause they could get behind.
When Moore and her allies couldn’t get the readings struck from the fall curriculum, they called on parents to keep their kids at home. One in three students did so at the start of the fall as protests quickly grew, and not of the peaceful sort. Anti-textbook protesters blocked school buses, sprayed racial epithets on buildings, and marched together with the Klan and the Confederate flag. They even detonated bombs at the Board of Education. This was a militant resistance to public education, fueled by racism and elevated by powerful national groups.
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