“You can teach kids how to treat each other with respect and dignity without trying to racially essentialize kids.”
I sit down with Maud Maron, an elected New York public school council member and public defender who was fired from her job at the Legal Aid Society after speaking out against race essentialism in schools. She is running for New York City Council.
We discuss the injection of critical race theory into schools, why lowering education standards hurts poor, minority kids, and what she describes as a new “community of the canceled” that has emerged in the last year.
Jan Jekielek: Maud Maron, such a pleasure to have you on “American Thought Leaders.”
Maud Maron: Jan, I’m so happy to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: Maud, I first became aware of you back in July. You wrote an op-ed in the New York Post, “Racial obsessions make it impossible for NYC schools to treat parents, kids as people.” This whole concept is something we’re going to talk about today, but before we go there, there’s a whole fascinating backstory to hear and maybe a little bit of story afterwards. I just want to get you to flesh this out, how this all came to be.
Ms. Maron: Right. Well, I wrote that op-ed about a training that I attended in my capacity as a school board president of a local school board in New York City. Usually, school boards are attended by a very small number of people, and that was certainly true of the board that I was on. But when we switched to Zoom because of COVID, we had more and more people, parents, showing up, which is actually a good thing, which was one of the small upsides of Zoom culture in the COVID era.
In the particular school board that I sit on, one of our meetings went viral, based on something someone has recently described to me as intersectional madness, because there was one parent whose outburst at another parent, fellow board member, was over the fact that he was white and was holding a black child on his lap. She thought that that was offensive for reasons that I still couldn’t possibly articulate to you.
Her outburst about that sort of went viral. Someone posted a clip on the internet, and people started paying attention, not just to the school board that I was on, which is one of the largest in New York City and in Manhattan, but to school boards around the country, because parents were starting to speak up. Some were quite in support of the ideology that this woman was talking about, which is encapsulated with Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo’s ideas, but other parents were pushing back on those ideas.
The school board fights, the school board wars, that I think are still going on very much right now, are where that op-ed that I wrote came from.
I was also responding to an interchange with Nikole Hannah Jones, who is the author of “The 1619 Project” in The New York Times. She interviewed me because she’d heard me speak as a school board parent.
She and I disagreed about a few things, and I referenced that disagreement and how parents should be able to come to the table to talk about their kids’ education, even if they disagree with each other. And so that’s what I wrote about in that op-ed.
Mr. Jekielek: If I recall, you thought it wasn’t entirely represented accurately in the article that was a result of that interview.
Ms. Maron: One of the things I had said to her, to Nikole Hannah Jones in the interview, was that all parents had a right to come to the table. This idea that these anti-racist views as articulated by Ibram Kendi are the only views that you’re allowed to have in the classroom or on the school board, I disagree with that. I think you have to make—especially in New York City, this fantastically diverse city, parents get to come regardless of their ideas to talk about what they want out of their children’s education.
It was portrayed—because I said, “Even if you think someone else is racist, they’re a public school parent. They get to come and talk about their ideas.” That was endlessly portrayed in social media as me saying that I was condoning or supporting racists being heard or listened to.
What I was saying is, “Even if you think someone’s point of view is racist, public school parents get to come together.”
Somewhat ironically, in the Twitter exchange I had with her, she accused me of being disingenuous because I referred to specialized high schools as majority POC—POC standing for people of color—which they are, in fact. And many, many people got angry at her because they said it was rather racist to say that Asians are not people of color. Those specialized high schools, in these schools in New York that you access through an exam, are majority Asian, and so they are majority non-white or people of color.
So when she said it was disingenuous of me to say that, a lot of people accused her of racism. What I said is, “Even the people who think she’s racist have to acknowledge that she’s a public school parent, just like me, just like close to a million families, and we all get to come and we all get to talk about what we want for our children’s education.” That was the argument I was making. I believed it then, and I believe it now.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s interesting that you said this is about treating parents and kids simply as people. Now, what do you mean by that?
Ms. Maron: You know, our discourse around these issues, about what to teach, how to teach it, what we’re allowed to teach, what we’re allowed to say, and what we’re allowed to call each other, has become so polarized that open discourse of just being able to talk about it is slipping away.
It’s because we’re labeling some people as unworthy of being part of the conversation. You have to agree with certain points of view, with certain language, with certain words, before you even get to come to the table for the conversation. And that’s not how it should be.
It’s not how it can be in New York City, or anywhere, but New York City’s public school system is the largest in the country. It’s pretty big; it’s pretty diverse. And you have to accept the fact that walking through the door of your kid’s school, there will be lots of parents who don’t agree with you about important things.
Nonetheless, you make a community, a school community where there will also be many things you have in common, like the quality of the education you want for your children and the fact that you want your children to treat each other with respect and kindness while they’re learning together. Right, I think that’s a line you could draw through pretty much every public school parent.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to talk about the education element a bit, because you’ve been very vocal about it. Something like less than 50 percent of students are able to read at grade level. And there are all sorts of very scary statistics, which you’re bringing to light, actually as part of your run for city council. I should mention that we don’t usually bring people on that are running in political races, but that’s not really the topic for today. So, with this op-ed—and this was part of what actually brought this to my attention—there was a lot of fallout.
Ms. Maron: Yes, indeed.
Mr. Jekielek: Part of it is that you lost your job.
Ms. Maron: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: I want you to tell me a bit about that, but before that, I want you to tell me about your job and how you got into it. Because it’s a rare breed of people that want to become public defenders, and I would love to hear your story of becoming a public defender.
Ms. Maron: Well, I knew in law school that it was something that interested me and something that I wanted to do. In my third year of law school, I took a class where you actually were assigned to be a mentee to a public defender. And so I was actually in court and representing clients as a third year law student.
That sealed the deal. You’re interacting with people in ways that you really help individual clients. I love the work, I love the colleagues, and I love doing the work.
I started working there right out of law school. I started working at the Legal Aid Society, which is the largest public defense agency in New York City. I did that for many years until I had my first child. I have four kids, and I went back to work at Legal Aid. I was working there when I was on my school board and when all of this was unfolding.
But after I wrote that op-ed, my employer and my union—we’re a unionized law office, which is a little unusual—but my union and my employer released statements basically saying that I was unfit to do the job, because of the opinions that I held and that I wrote about and because of who I am.
Mr. Jekielek: People reached out to some of your coworkers, and most of them, without being identified for fear of repercussion, said, “She was excellent at her work.” I mean, I have to say that. But somehow by stating this opinion, you had crossed the Rubicon here.
Ms. Maron: Yes, look, for me personally, it’s really awful, but also I don’t think I’m alone, sadly. I don’t think I’m the only person who has lost their job because they said something they believed that their employer decided you don’t get to say that.
In America, that shouldn’t happen anywhere, in my opinion. In our country where we have first amendment rights that are very explicit and very clear—I wasn’t even talking about my job, I was talking about my kids’ schools and my kids’ education. And so the idea that my employer felt that they had the right to weigh in and to say that my ideas and my thoughts rendered me unfit to do my job, it’s really troubling.
Mr. Jekielek: I would have to agree. They published these statements, but that actually led you to losing your job.
Ms. Maron: Well, we have a case that’s in federal court right now. I am suing my employer and my union. And so to some extent, that will be decided in federal court. I’ll just put on the lawyer hat, and I will say that case will follow the path through the courts that the cases like that do.
[Narration]: We reached out to Maud Maron’s former employer, the Legal Aid Society. A spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email, “We believe this lawsuit is a frivolous and misguided attempt to use litigation to harass a nonprofit employer and its employees who have spent their careers advancing social justice causes.”
Mr. Jekielek: So, since that time or during all this, you’re actually running for city office.
Ms. Maron: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: What prompted you to do this?
Ms. Maron: I ran for the school board back in 2017. When you’re working as a parent leader—that’s the language we use in New York City for people who are on school boards and in the various committees that exist within the school for parents to make their voice heard—you interact with a lot of local politicians.
You’re knocking on their door and advocating for things for the kids’ schools or for changes to all sorts of education policies. And you see up close how some of those local elected offices work.
I decided I would run for city council, which is the local legislative body in New York City. I took a sabbatical from my job, and my plan was to run for office, and if I got elected great, I would be a city council member. And if I did not, I would return to a job that I had a legal right to return to, that I liked doing, that I was good at doing. I thought it was a simple, safe plan to run for office, and to return to my job if I was not elected.
Mr. Jekielek: So the reason behind you wanting to run has to do with education, right?
Ms. Maron: Yes, not exclusively education. There are a lot of issues downtown that are impacting us. I’ve been a public defender for years. I know the criminal court system well and the criminal justice system. The same way we’re polarized in certain education conversations, we’re polarized in public safety conversations. You’re either sort of pro-cop or anti-cop, well, that’s silly and ridiculous.
We need to be safe in our communities. We need kids to be safe. We need old people to be safe, We need to pay attention to the rise in hate crimes in our city, but we can do all that while not abusing any person’s constitutional rights.
And we need to make sure that we have jails that are humane and that are safe. [I don’t agree with] this polarized idea that you need to decarcerate, which is a word you hear all the time as if it’s the only solution to a problematic jail culture. And Rikers Island in New York City is a disaster.
The only solution that some folks are offering is to let every single person out of jail. That’s not a realistic or sane solution for a city of our size.
It’s one of those things where you have to bring people who have very different points of view about what the solutions are together to acknowledge the role that police play in a society, to acknowledge the importance of public safety, but to also acknowledge the rights of poor people—all people, but particularly poor people—going through a criminal justice system as defendants, and have a sane conversation about the balancing of those very legitimate concerns.
I’ve talked about public education; I’ve talked about public safety. And of course, when I started to run, I didn’t anticipate a global pandemic. So I didn’t anticipate the shutdown of businesses in New York City and the enormous impact on small, local businesses and restaurants and people who had their livelihoods pulled out from under them, because of what I and many other people realize were overly restrictive and overly punitive lockdown measures.
If you can lock people down for a certain period of time and get rid of a disease, maybe you should do that. But what we’ve discovered, I think if you look globally, is that lockdowns didn’t stop COVID from ravaging our communities, but they brought their own enormous destruction. And so that’s something that for me, as someone running for office, I think we have to talk about in a smarter and better way than we’re doing in New York right now.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to go back to this idea of, facilitating discourse. There’s a lot of folks out there that are thinking to themselves, a lot of people that are writing to me regularly, saying, “I don’t think that divide that you identified earlier can be bridged; it’s just too far.” But you’re still talking about bridging the divide. That’s what I find interesting.
Ms. Maron: Well, I’ll tell you. When I filed my lawsuit in federal court with regard to my employer, the journalist Bari Weiss wrote an article about it, and I appeared on her podcast. Because she has a big reach, a lot of people heard it; a lot of people read about it. And I got a wave of letters from people.
For me, it was fascinating and really interesting, because I had people who described themselves as very far to the left of me, basically Marxist, who said: this is what I think, why what happened to you shouldn’t happen. I had other people telling me that they were deeply conservative, that they actually thought they probably didn’t agree with me about much, but they admired me standing up in this way, and agreed with some of what I had said in the podcast.
So I heard from this huge range. And there were other folks, I think maybe more similar to me, sort of moderate centrist types. They were people whose politics and whose ideas span a very wide range. They agreed with the idea that you should have any ideas you want and still be able to show up and work.
If you’re doing your job well, you should be able to keep doing it, even if your employer doesn’t agree with you about some issue, some concern. So there is common ground among Americans, even Americans of different political parties, even people with very divergent views on important issues. There is common ground, and if you’re invested in finding it and creating a space for that open discourse, you can find it.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to just briefly touch on this, because I want to make sure that you’re not misrepresented around the issue of racism. I know when we were talking earlier, you said, “I’ve seen racism in my work and so forth. This is a real thing.” Right? But you take issue with this ideological racism, for the lack of a better term, the Ibram Kendi version of racism or explanation of how that actually works. Tell me a little bit about that.
Ms. Maron: You know, of course there’s racism in America, and if you’ve worked as I have in the criminal court system, you see it very up close sometimes, but you don’t have to have any specialized field of knowledge to see racism or sexism or homophobia or anti-Semitism.
We’ve seen a huge amount of anti-Asian violence in New York City. That’s been really horrifying recently in the last year or so. There’s a lot of bad people who do bad things. I’m not playing it down by using simple language; I’m just saying that there is, that’s all real.
How we remedy it, how we teach about it, how we talk about it, how we understand it, reasonable people can have different ideas about it. I disagree with the book, “White Fragility” that says all white people are racist. I disagree with Ibram Kendi’s notion that the way you remedy past discrimination is with present discrimination.
I think reasonable people could sit down and say: here’s why I think that’s unworkable or that’s a bad idea. It’s part of what I was saying earlier. Part of what I wrote the op-ed about is that you may think the person’s racist because they don’t agree with Ibram Kendi or because they don’t accept your point of view, but that’s not how you have a conversation with people.
You have to bring your ideas, you have to bring your explanations, your examples. You have to bring that to the table to have a conversation. “You either agree with me or you’re racist” is a ridiculous position to have.
Mr. Jekielek: You just reminded me, some of the more amazing stories I’ve read involve a man, I forget his name right now, who would go to actual white supremacists.
Ms. Maron: Daryl Davis.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes, Daryl Davis, make friends with them, and actually shift a number of their thinking.
Ms. Maron: Through conversation and treating people like human beings. Daryl Davis is a black man, and he was speaking to Ku Klux Klan members. Yes, he and I are on a newly formed organization called FAIR, The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism. It’s a collection of some rather amazing people that I’m very thrilled to be included with because they are people trying to talk about how to have the conversations we need to have and how to treat each other like human beings.
Mr. Jekielek: Something you just mentioned, I want to build on that a little bit. It’s the speaking up when you see wrong being done. As we’re filming, there’s a video today of a woman pulling down what she describes as pornographic advertising in the subway. In Fairfax county, there’s parents looking at books and this pornography element is coming up in grade seven and eight books.
People are seeing these kinds of things, but in many cases, they don’t know how to respond, even though they have an issue with it. It’s the same with, for example, masking of children. That’s another topic which people aren’t—some people are talking about, but you’re saying that you have to speak out.
Ms. Maron: Yes. One of the biggest problems that we have—and certainly what my own journey has shown us—is around certain topics there’s this huge cost to speaking out, and so people remain quiet.
I saw that video of the woman pulling things down in the subway, and I’ve seen more than one Fairfax County, Virginia school board meeting at this point, because there are a lot of parents there speaking up and saying,” What’s going on in our schools is not acceptable. It’s not good; it’s bad for our kids.”
That should never carry a cost. You should be able to show up at a school board meeting and say, “I’m really concerned about this practice going on in my school. I want to speak to board members and elected leaders who are responsive to me.” The idea that these parents show up, and sometimes the Fairfax County—I’m in New York; I’m not in Virginia, but we’ve seen in San Francisco and in Virginia—board members get up and walk out of the room. That’s not your job or your role, and it’s just not acceptable.
You’re there to listen to parents and to be responsive to parents, right? It doesn’t mean that every parent that comes in and has an issue or has a concern gets to change what’s going on in the school on the spot. That’s not how it works, but the conversation about what’s important and what’s happening has to be engaged.
Parents have to be listened to. So when the criticism cuts too close to the bone and people don’t like it, getting up and walking out of the room is not acceptable. I ran a school board for a period of time, so I can say it’s really possible to sit there and listen to people who strongly disagree with you and make a space where people who agree and disagree with you can come and be heard.
Mr. Jekielek: I remember back when there was a lot of discussion about doing homeschooling in the COVID era. Those schools, many schools were shut down. This Harvard professor said, basically, that we shouldn’t be allowing for this, because we can’t really control what these kids are learning. I do remember that.
It just made me really think about that. It never occurred to me that school’s administrators might think that they should overrule the parent’s role potentially, right? Because in the end, I guess you would expect the parents would be in charge, but that’s not actually everybody’s view, right?
Ms. Maron: That’s a very, very big issue right now. And I think we’re going to see it grow bigger. That discussion is going to become more engaged, because there is this idea that somehow that sometimes parents are part of the problem.
You see it around things like kids choosing different pronouns in school. A lot of schools have started this process where they say: okay, we’re not going to tell the parents that we’re now calling this girl who came to our school as a girl, who’s now wishing to use male pronouns, that we’re using male pronouns or vice versa.
There’s no excuse for that. There’s just no excuse. If there’s some particular reason to believe that a child’s in danger from their parents, teachers are mandatory reporters. You have to report that danger. If there isn’t any real or concrete reason to think that parents couldn’t be engaged about the wellbeing of their child, then there’s no excuse not to.
Of course parents have to be engaged about what’s going on with their children. And of course, parents have the last say in what’s going on with their children. But this notion that somehow schools know better, or that they can do a better job than parents, is creeping up.
It’s not exclusive to gender ideology, but for me, you see it most troublingly there. And it’s part of a broader pattern of thinking about schools not as places where you have to educate future citizens and prepare them for college or prepare them for the workforce, but where you’re molding a person to share an ideological point of view.
I think it really gets off the rails of what schools are supposed to be doing. Particularly because schools aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing in the first place, which is to educate future citizens.
When you’re falling down on that job, and then you say, “Well, we’re not even really so much focused on that; we’re focused on making sure that children agree with an ideological point of view,” that’s really deeply troubling. It’s one of those things that I think parents on both sides of a political aisle could agree about.
Mr. Jekielek: You just reminded me, I was made aware earlier today that there’s an attempt to lower the age of consent for vaccination to 12, in Massachusetts I believe it is. I don’t know if this is exactly the same question as schools, but who else would be urging the students to be vaccinated at 12? I don’t know.
Ms. Maron: I think there’s a tremendous mismatch in issues around age of consent. Children have to be a certain age to buy cigarettes or buy alcohol or get a tattoo, but then on other more serious concerns, medical concerns, there’s suddenly an urge to say that children who are very young can make that decision on their own without their parents.
The lack of consistency there gives away a little bit, the fact that issues are being pushed and we’re not having an honest discussion about parental involvement in children’s decision making.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. Just a little bit on this, I wanted to go back to the education side. This has been a problem for a very long time. The idea that less than half of, is it New York students?
Ms. Maron: It’s a statistic from New York City.
Mr. Jekielek: Right, less than half are able to read and do math at grade level. And I understand that New York has really quite a bit of money per student, comparable to many private schools in the system, right? But this isn’t new, the emergence of this, let’s call it woke ideology or something. This has been persistent for awhile. How does that work?
Ms. Maron: Yes, and I think, as I said, when I started on the school board in 2017, it was pre-COVID and we were talking really excessively about education and how to fix it and how to make it better. If you don’t teach kids how to read or write or do math on grade level for many years, the deficits compound, and it gets harder for children to be able to take an entrance exam to get into a competitive high school.
How to solve for that was the discussion that was brewing on my school board. Basically, to really oversimplify it, it came down to two schools of thought. One was to improve the education so that all kids could compete fairly. And the other was to say that there were these structural inequities that we could never overcome, so we just had to get rid of the tests and get rid of any objective evaluation of how kids were doing.
I couldn’t disagree with that more because it’s a disservice to kids if you don’t even bother to figure out who’s learning and who’s not. Of course we need to give our kids tests to see if they can read and do math in such a way that would allow them to take the courses at a high school level. We should prepare them to do well and to be successful.
But that conversation in its most simple terms is this: Do we fix the school system so that we can educate our kids extremely well? Or do we do away with the tests that show how badly we are educating our kids so that we can declare some sort of success and call it integration? I think that’s really cheating kids.
Mr. Jekielek: Essentially, it’s an assault on merit-based education.
Ms. Maron: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: I find it difficult to imagine how that will work out well for anybody. I’m talking about anybody at all, right? But clearly you’ve been speaking with people who believe that this is a good way to go.
Ms. Maron: Right, it’s happening right now, like this second in New York City. Before I came here this morning, I had a parent reach out to me about a local high school that’s very close to my house where they’re trying to get rid of the advanced placement classes.
When you dig a little to try to understand why—if you have a school where that’s a successful school, where children are doing well, the parents want to send their kids to, why would you try to get rid of advanced placement classes or honors math classes?
And when you dig a little, you always find this idea of equity behind it, that somehow it’s more fair to a disadvantaged group of kids, and usually that’s defined along a racial axis. It’s so simplistic, and ultimately, really at the end of the day, it’s terrible for public school kids; it’s terrible for poor kids; it’s most terrible for the kids that we’re supposedly trying to help when we implement these fixes.
If you’re a poor minority kid in New York City who has no social capital to spend, your parents aren’t going to help you get a job, you don’t have anyone to help you catch up in a subject if you fall behind, you’re the child who most needs a rigorous, great public school education.
I mean, we all do. My kids need a great public school education too, but the kids who need it most are the kids who don’t have extra support in any way. They need public schools to be excellent and to really be a ladder. That’s why I think the folks who are arguing to get rid of hard tests or accelerated classes are doing an enormous disservice to the kids that they say they want to help.
Mr. Jekielek: Have you ever thought about taking your kids out of public school?
Ms. Maron: Yes, I have.
Mr. Jekielek: Because this is presumably what got you interested in school boards and the like in the first place.
Ms. Maron: You mean having kids in public schools?
Mr. Jekielek: Yes.
Ms. Maron: Yes, of course. I’m very invested in our public schools and I want them to be great, and my kids have been very happy, and have had great friends and great teachers. There are things I would improve, that I would suggest for improvement in all of my kids’ schools.
But one of the things that—there are many reasons why every family makes their own personal decision—but in New York City, and not just New York City but elsewhere, there has been a little explosion of parent unhappiness in private schools over diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings that are going on in those private schools.
If you disagree with some of those initiatives that lean heavily into the, “White Fragility” style trainings—that I was taking issue with in that op-ed—what I always say to my husband is, “Why would we pay for this awful stuff when we can get it for free in public school?”
I say it jokingly, but it’s true. I don’t want, if there was that great school out there where the academic standards were super high and where the school wasn’t trying to swim through this swamp of figuring out things—that you can teach kids how to treat each other with respect and dignity without trying to racially essentialize kids, say that all kids of this skin color are like this, and all kids of this skin color like that. That’s just a horrible thing to teach children, and I certainly don’t want to pay for it to be taught to my children.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, so this is the reason why you wouldn’t take them out of public school, but why would you have?
Ms. Maron: Because I want my kids to not be taught the things that I take issue with. And because I want the focus on education to be unapologetic about rigor, unapologetic about learning.
There’s nothing wrong with being the kid who gets all the answers right on a test. There’s nothing wrong with striving to learn more and do better. And that sense of let’s celebrate education and let’s be unapologetic about it, it’s sort of slipping away a little bit. That’s what makes me nervous.
At one of the school board meetings that was still in person pre-COVID, a huge number of parents turned up over the issue of whether or not we would get rid of the specialized high school exam, the SHSAT, the test that you take to get into it.
This mom showed up, and she said she was a Chinese-American woman. And there had been a lot of discussion about test prep—that that was one of the reasons maybe these exams were unfair. The argument there from folks who want to get rid of the test is that rich and wealthy white kids can pay for test prep and poor minority kids can’t. That argument is somewhat belied by the fact that it’s often low-income Asian kids who are doing the best on these tests.
But at any rate, this Chinese-American mom showed up, and she said, “What you call, test prep, we call studying, and we won’t apologize for it.” And a little light bulb went on in my head, [countering] that notion of well maybe it’s not fair because some kids can afford a preparatory class and some kids can’t.
I just thought, so many of the kids who are doing really well in New York City schools are poor. They have parents who don’t speak English as a first language. They don’t have the enormous privileges. There are privileged kids doing well in school too. There are kids of every socioeconomic group, in every color doing well.
But you have so many children who are not privileged in any way doing well, and you refuse to acknowledge that and see it and say, “Wow, the success of immigrants, waves of immigrant communities in New York City, that do well in school, that’s what we should be focusing on.”
How does that happen? That happens by families telling kids it’s incredibly important for you to do well in school. We expect you to do well in school, and we expect you to study. Isn’t that something that, even if you don’t agree with it for your own child, even if you don’t, can we just acknowledge it? That’s a very good and healthy thing for many children, particularly poor kids in the city who are using education to get ahead.
Mr. Jekielek: This feels like a sensitive thing to talk about. I don’t know if it should be. It’s almost like it’s the culture inside those households that makes the difference, irrespective of socioeconomic reality or ethnicity. What do you think about that?
Ms. Maron: Look, I’ve worked with a lot of Chinese-American, Asian-American families, more broadly around education advocacy issues. And of course there’s a big cultural component for some families, making sure that you get great grades is incredibly important. And for other families that isn’t a big issue.
I’m part of an education advocacy organization in New York City called PLACE NYC, and there’s a tremendous similarity between immigrant parents. It doesn’t matter if you’re from China, from Poland, from the former USSR, the immigrant vibe from certain parents about how important education is—and I’m married to an immigrant so I see it firsthand—is really strong.
It doesn’t mean that native-born Americans like myself don’t care about education. We do, but there is an extreme emphasis on the importance of education in some homes. There’s an extreme emphasis on arts or sports or extracurricular activities in other homes. And that’s great; it’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that.
There are also just kids for whom there is no emphasis at home. They don’t have strong parental supports and they don’t have—we have a tremendous number of homeless children in New York City public schools. When you’re worried, you as a parent, are worried about where you’re going to lay your head down or keeping your family together, worrying about the grade on a test probably does fall down lower on the ladder, which is not to say that parents who are homeless aren’t worried about their kids getting a good education. Of course they are. There are many, many parents that are.
But where you can put your emphasis as a parent and the time and energy that you can devote to your kids’ education varies tremendously.
We get this idea from a lot of equity advocates in New York City about equal outcomes: they measure the success of a program or a school by how much everybody does the same. That’s really impossible given people’s innate differences and talents. And the fact that the home life is so distinct for people.
I think that’s what lies behind some of the “let’s get rid of the advanced programs, let’s get rid of the accelerated programs.” Because it highlights differences that our elected leaders and that our school administrators don’t like seeing, because it’s inconvenient for them.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m going to switch gears a little bit here. You wrote an op-ed, I believe in “Newsweek.” Basically you highlight the need to respond vocally to what you describe as woke lies.
Ms. Maron: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, so explain that to me.
Ms. Maron: Well, what I wrote is, “I stand with J.K. Rowling,” who is the author of the famous “Harry Potter” books. I wrote it, because I hadn’t written it almost a year ago when she was being pilloried. She was being called transphobic for saying that sex-based rights are real and important. In other words, that women should have legal rights that are specific to you as women.
The topic hasn’t gone away, because the ACLU a few days ago released a quote. They doctored a quote of the former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was talking about women and women’s rights, reproductive freedom rights. And they took out the word woman and wrote person, people or person, because now there’s this idea, a sort of incredibly odd idea, that using the word woman or mother is not inclusive of trans people.
It’s absurd, because the idea that you have to erase words that I use to describe my life—being a woman and being a mother are incredibly important to me. But the idea that you have to erase those words to be inclusive of trans people is just ridiculous.
You don’t erase the language that half the planet uses to describe themselves to be inclusive of people. You can be inclusive of trans people and make sure that their rights are protected and that they are not discriminated against in any way without changing the language for a whole group of people.
And so that issue came up. The reason I hadn’t written it then is because I was running for office. And the idea was: you can’t say this because people have already called you racist for education advocacy issues. Now they’ll call you transphobic.
It sort of seemed like a practical political decision at the moment, but it stuck with me as something where I felt like I didn’t say something I believe. Even though she’s a famous author, she’s one of the wealthiest women in the world, and she didn’t need my voice speaking up for her, I felt like I wanted to be one of the voices saying, “I stand with this woman. I agree with her.”
I didn’t say it because I thought there would be negative political repercussions. I don’t want to live in that country that says, “Well, you can’t risk saying I agree with her.” I want to say, “I agree with you.” And I want to say, “I disagree with you” because what does it mean to be American, if you can’t say, “I agree with this person?”
Mr. Jekielek: What is the cost of not saying that?
Ms. Maron: The cost of not saying is that you know you’ve been somewhat cowardly.
Mr. Jekielek: What about to society?
Ms. Maron: Well, I think we’re seeing that cost now writ large, right? When I see other parents raging at school boards saying, “You can’t teach this in my kid’s school,” I’m seeing the rage of parents who have been too quiet for too long.
Mr. Jekielek: As we finish up, I want to talk a little bit about this whole phenomenon of cancellation. There’s so many people in America and beyond right now that are experiencing this. People, organizations, and of course, and you yourself have been so-called canceled. Now for some people, it might be a little bit simpler.
You had the situation where you were able to stay at home, for example, presumably it was your husband that was working during that time. That might give you a bit more of an ability to just say, I don’t really mind about the outcome. A lot of people that I’ve spoken with that have either experienced this or fear experiencing it, their whole livelihood could be at stake. Nevermind other people who say, it’s driven them to think suicidal thoughts or worse.
Ms. Maron: Yes, I think you’re a hundred percent right that for some people you have cushion and you have insulation. I didn’t worry about paying my mortgage or keeping food on the table. When I lost my job, I hated losing my job because I love it, and it’s what I was planning on doing. But for some people, for many, many people, they don’t have that cushion, right?
There’s the organization FIRE [Foundation for Individual Rights in Education]. They work on academic freedom issues, and they do this annual poll of where Americans feel on campus in terms of being able to speak out, and it’s getting worse.
People feel more inhibited about what they’re able to say. And so when you have a professor who thinks, “I can’t risk saying one wrong thing in front of my class, because I’ll lose my job, and if I lose my job, I don’t know if I’ll get another job. And I don’t know how I’m going to pay my mortgage or pay my rent.”
That’s where cancel culture is, which is real. I haven’t really used those words so much, but I think it’s most easy to understand where people are afraid to speak out because they’re afraid they might lose their job or experience some other [hardship, like] being ostracized by their community. That’s where it’s most pernicious, right?
It’s people who are not saying anything that could possibly get them in trouble. Not because they don’t disagree with ideas that are being floated around in their workplace, on their campus, but because they can’t afford to, right? Because they absolutely can’t afford to lose a job or to experience being ostracized in any way.
I mean, I don’t know anyone who welcomes it. It’s really awful, but also, there’s a tremendous disparate impact among people because some people can transition and get a job somewhere else and and move on, and some people don’t and can’t.
The thing that happens where one person is particularly viciously silenced, it’s awful for that person, but it’s a message to everybody else, like, see what happens? This person stepped over this line said this thing they shouldn’t say, and it’s a big message to everybody else that they better not say words like that or have thoughts like that because they too could be silenced.
Mr. Jekielek: Did you lose friends?
Ms. Maron: Oh, yes.
Mr. Jekielek: I guess you gained some as well.
Ms. Maron: Yes, I have. There are two expressions that came to me in conversation with people. One is something I saw that someone on social media talked about: “the great unfriending.” I thought: oh, I know what that feels like, because you have people who you’ve been friends with for a long time, who think, “We’re no longer in lock-step politically, so we can’t be friends.” It surprised the heck out of me because I’m fine with being friends with you, even if I don’t agree with you on everything.
And then the other thing someone said to me. We were talking about going through relatively similar experiences, and they said that one of the great unexpected gifts of the past year had been the community of the canceled. I thought it was really beautiful and really also spoke to me, because I thought: yes, I’ve met a lot of really amazing people. And it’s been heartening to talk to so many great people who were speaking up, even knowing that there’s a cost to speaking up.
Mr. Jekielek: So Maud, what’s the path forward here?
Ms. Maron: Well, I’m running for office and I’d like to see more people run for office who are not parroting the party line, whether it’s the Democratic party line or the Republican party line, but are really speaking directly to the issues that people are talking about.
School boards are a great place to see grassroots concerns. If you go to your local school board, and you see what makes parents get up, stand up, sit on uncomfortable chairs, and wait around forever to speak two minutes into a mic. then you’ll know what people are worried about and concerned about. We need more politicians who are speaking to that.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Maud Maron, such a pleasure to have you on.
Ms. Maron: Thank you so much for having me.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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