It started with a sidewalk conversation just after we moved to Lititz in 2021.
I was admiring the artwork of my neighbor, Margaret Thorn, and trading stories about the Warwick High School Class of 1966 with her husband, my WHS classmate, Art Thorn. Margaret told me she had spoken at the local school board meeting. A former teacher and world traveler, she appreciates the complex histories of the many cultures that constitute America. She believes all students benefit from learning about cultures other than their own and about their nation’s history, both the good and the bad of it. She shared her experience as a parent, grandparent, and former teacher.
Why did she feel it necessary to defend such a basic 21st-century educational principle? Wouldn’t everyone favor such essential tools for living in peace and seeking mutual understanding? Apparently not.
Margaret spoke because she had been listening first. She described board meetings full of acrimony and tension, with parents demanding more influence on books in the curriculum and in the library. The diversity, equity, and inclusion policy was another area parents questioned. The board members were accused of supporting pornography and lack of transparency by some parents. The school administration and board spent precious time and much taxpayer money responding to Right to Know requests for their emails.
This was not the way school board meetings used to be. What had happened to trust?
I decided I needed to read, gather data, and attend meetings. If you have been following the latest political winds, you know that the “parental rights” movement is the latest skirmish in what has been called “the culture wars.” This one has numerous faces, most notably the fast-growing Moms for Liberty movement.
I have now spent hundreds of hours investigating this movement. I attended three board meetings and spoke as a citizen in two of them, highlighting the real danger of gun violence over the imagined danger of library books in October. Last December I pointed to the example of the open arms of Mary and the baby Jesus in the nativity scene in our town square: they are wide enough to include all of us. That image of divine love continues to guide me.
Early this year a group of us began meeting. We decided to call ourselves Grandmas for Love. We are heeding author Mary Pipher’s call: “Grandmothers of the World, Unite!” Though we don’t have nearly the same level of organization (and big money) support as MFL, we do have friends and allies in other places who live in school districts that were taken over by extremists, suffered the consequences, and now are struggling to recover. Their recent history illustrates the play book for how rapidly a vocal minority can sew discord and disrupt normal proceedings. Two cautionary tales for us are the Central Bucks County, PA, schools and the Newberg, OR, schools.
When extremists win a majority, they frequently fire the superintendent regardless of whether the contract is up. They ban things — books, rainbow flags, Black Lives Matter flags. They frighten teachers and staff, whose difficult jobs become even harder. A single parent who complains can take away books from many students, as happened in Florida recently when Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb was moved from a shelf for all students to one reserved for the upper grades only.
A year ago I never imagined I’d be spending so much time trying to understand the local school board! But then, life has surprised me often. I had no idea my husband would have a cancer diagnosis. I had planned to do a 2023 book tour promoting The Mindful Grandparent. That has not happened. I’ll be writing more about both subjects later, but for now, I am talking with teachers and trying to learn more about “deep canvassing” — honest and kind ways to talk with others across political and religious differences.
I know deep in my heart that the majority of citizens in this town prefer cultural harmony to culture war. I am deeply grateful that many in my community are responding to the message of love. Regardless of gender, age, marital or parental status, many are happy to be called “grandmas” when they hear our values:
We uphold the values of diversity and inclusion. We believe parents of all religious faiths and no religious faith all have the right to guide their children, including the right to ‘opt out’ of certain books or activities. This system of respect for religious differences, based on the important American principle of separation of church and state, has worked in public schools for decades.
The statement above was part of the full-page ad message we ran as a in the local newspaper. The ad gave the address for our Grandmas for Love YouTube channel. Throughout the summer and fall we will be adding new content to our channel.
In a few weeks, I will turn 75 years old. I am so grateful to have lived and loved so long. The time ahead, even if I am blessed with a long and healthy life, will be much shorter than the time behind me. I hope to use all of it for Love.
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
How is Love showing up in your life? Do you have a favorite volunteer activity or cause you would like to tell us about? I hope so!