The wokesters are coming for your kids!!!
While a bit trolly, that line isn’t false or exaggerated. Long a feature of Research 1 graduate schools and hipster work environments, hard-left academic philosophies like Marxist critical theory, Critical Race Theory (CRT), transgender advocacy, and fourth-wave feminism are becoming increasingly pervasive in American secondary and primary education. While these may titillate many young and naturally rebellious students, teaching trendy woke theories like these alienates many other kids and most parents, and it does nothing to fix actual residual prejudice within society. More importantly, devoting time to them deprives poor and minority students of the real skills they will need to succeed in post-industrial society — the half-joking Three Rs of “readin’, ’ritin, and ’rithmetic.” Schools dedicated to the education of children should stop teaching useless radicalism — today.
The rise of performative wokeness within major school districts is not itself much disputed. In California, a new “Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum” is currently up for a vote statewide and will be instituted across 10–11,000 primary and secondary schools serving roughly six million kids if successful. Developed by R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, the curriculum argues that the founding ideology of the United States was “Eurocentric, white supremacist (racist, anti-Black, anti-Indigenous), capitalist (classist), patriarchal (sexist and misogynistic), heteropatriarchial (homophobic), and anthropocentric” and advocates for the total “decolonization” of our society today. A few titillating terms such as “countergenocide” perhaps provide clues as to how this would take place — although honesty compels me to admit that this language almost certainly doesn’t really mean “Kill all the white folks!”
The most entertaining, if bizarre, portion of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum is its central focus on the worship of historical Aztec deities. Chris Rufo writes in City Journal, “The curriculum recommends that teachers lead their students in a series of indigenous songs, chants, and affirmations, including the ‘In Lak Ech Affirmation,’ which appeals directly to the Aztec gods.” Students first praise Tezkatlipoka — asking the Hummingbird Sorcerer to grant them power as “social justice” “warriors” — and move on to formal chants directed to Quetzalcoatl (“The Feathered Serpent”), Huitzilopochtli, and Xipe Totek. Leaving aside the amusing absurdity of opposing colonialism, military violence, and religious traditionalism by invoking the Aztecs, Christians and others may be interested to know that Huitzilopochtli was the Aztec god of war, and Tezkatlipoka the famous deity often worshipped with human sacrifice and alleged cannibalism.
While perhaps less religious in tone, similar curricular content is common across multiple sizable and influential school districts. In Buffalo, Public School Diversity don Fatima Morrell has taken the lead in implementing a curriculum inspired by the “critically conscious” pedagogy of Marxist theorists like Paolo Freire — as well as by Black Lives Matter (also “trained Marxists”) closer to home. Foci of the curriculum’s “Black Lives Matter principles” include “dismantling cisgender privilege,” developing “queer-affirming network[s] where heteronormative thinking no longer exists” inside grade and high schools, and “the disruption of Western nuclear family dynamics.” Within the same state and a bit down the coast, Bari Weiss — skilled writer and one of several people to become the former opinion editor of the New York Times this year — provides almost a dozen similar examples from top American prep schools in a recent City Journal article.
Manhattan’s Grace Church School, for example, “offers a 12-page guide to ‘inclusive language,’ which discourages people from using the word ‘parents’ … or from asking questions like ‘What religion are you?’ ” While this last could be polite in some contexts, it gels a bit oddly with the history of this particular institution, a specifically Episcopal school literally named “Grace Church.” But it wins no prizes for linguistic sensitivity even inside New York City. Not far away, at Fieldston School, some of the core language of the physics classroom has been changed, with an upperclassman telling Weiss that Newton’s Laws have been renamed “the three fundamental laws of physics” in an attempt to “decenter whiteness.” Unlike, say, Mr. Freire, the old Brit appears too controversial for at least some prominent campuses today.
The audience targeted by this kind of indoctrination keeps getting younger and younger.
Consciousness-raising need not stop at the gates of the school. The principal of another well-known New York City school, East Side Community High School’s Mark Federman, recently made news after sending the parents of white students a home-addressed letter encouraging each of them to become a “white traitor” if not a “white abolitionist” and breaking down eight supposed ways to be white (from supremacy at worst to abolitionism at best) on a meter. For good measure, the letter went on to criticize essentially all conservatives, arguing that the root cause of fairly standard GOP beliefs are “racism and hate” and denouncing former President Trump as a “lying, racist, sexist, classist, hateful, science-denying bully.” One wonders how Mr. Federman’s enlightened Caucasian pupils might react, after four to eight years of this, should they happen home and find Mom and Dad watching Tucker Carlson with brandies in hand after a hard day’s work. A sacrifice to Tezkatlipoka, perhaps!
The audience targeted by this kind of indoctrination keeps getting younger and younger. The Arizona Department of Education — another powerful statewide organization that is in no sense an outlier — recently created an “equity toolkit” focused on babies and their parents. Materials in the toolkit claim that infants show “the first signs of racism” at three months of age and that white kids are “strongly biased in favor of whiteness” by age five or six. Literal anti-racist trainings for babies are encouraged, and outlined, within the kit.
As a social scientist who teaches classes in Methodology, I must note that many of the state of Arizona’s claims seem dubious at best: actual science does show that babies place more trust in faces that resemble those of their caregivers, but almost a quarter of new marriages are interracial, and those caregivers can be of any race or combination of races. As absurd as the definitions of “racism” involved in this sector may be, however, Arizona is by no means alone in teaching toddlers not to be bigots and hate criminals; the sociologist Ibram Kendi currently has a best-selling book out titled Anti-Racist Baby.
A great deal of the content being discussed here is frankly hilarious, but the consequences of teaching it are no laughing matter. Simply put, there are only so many hours — by law — in the school day. The more time children spend learning to praise ancient war gods and doing math using African hieroglyphs, the less time they spend learning to conjugate modern verbs and doing math using Arabic numerals. And, in reality, this second set of skills is most needed by the working-class minority and urban white kids concentrated in the inner-city schools likely to adopt these new curricula and focus on the former. In Buffalo, New York, cited above as a hotbed of curricular wokeness, Christopher Rufo notes that only 18 percent of fifth-grade students score as “proficient” in math and only 20 percent as proficient in English. Later on, one-third of all students enrolled fail to graduate from high school, with Blacks doing a bit worse than their white peers (who also do very badly).
And Buffalo is by no means the worst-performing major-city district in her weight class. Down the road in Baltimore, where a CRT-influenced curriculum is being encouraged, a young man I will not name made international headlines by finishing a school year in the top half of his class academically — despite having a 0.13 grade point average and having passed only three classes in four years. He was, predictably and sadly, a young Black man. To state the absolutely obvious, students like this need English, practical math, geometry, and even the discipline of varsity sports far more than courses of indoctrination in “feminism today” and “racism as discourse.”
In addition to taking time away from real subjects, a serious flaw of “Woke-A-Cation” is that it almost certainly does nothing to decrease real racism. Multiple major studies and analyses — often conducted in the business sector, where authors and executives care more about cold cash than warm feelings — demonstrate that standard diversity trainings like Implicit Bias Training often have no impact on individual behavior. To speculate only a bit, most people are not racists, and those who are within any group — as the result of a decade of family indoctrination or something like a brutal beating — are unlikely to change their minds because a wealthy consultant of a different race tells them to.
There are certainly harmful, if residual, effects of racism in society even today. For example, resumes bearing stereotypically Black names are more likely to be rejected than those with stereotypically white names (although recent research suggests this effect may largely vanish when social class is adjusted for as well as race). But solutions to this kind of actual problem tend to be fairly simple: having one staffer in Human Resources replace the names on job applications with numbers would logically eliminate this issue. Lecturing people about the hidden subtle racism of everything distracts from such practical and achievable progress in the real world.
In fact, common sense tells us that it may well make bias worse. An obvious if rarely discussed risk of telling all members of one group — especially in an armed “warrior” society like the USA — that they are participants in evil is that it is likely to cause backlash. Putting together notes for a potential book titled Alt Wrongs, I found that virtually all young white men I spoke to about becoming “red-pilled” or radicalized described themselves as reacting to a popular and academic culture that they saw as strongly anti-white. Without excusing their behavior, articles like the one linked here and some of those cited above indicate that this perception may not be delusional.
National numbers tell a similar story, with views of U.S. race relations hitting a 20-year low near the beginning of 2016, and then getting worse over the next several years. While many factors no doubt contributed to this sad accomplishment, it is hard not to see the intense recent polarization of the nation’s recent “BLM/CRT v. Trump” dynamic as chief among them.
And the existence of such a culture of ethnic conflict has consequences. As the invaluable Glenn Loury noted during a recent speech at the University of Colorado, a white citizen who is constantly lectured about the evils of Western civilization might react with guilt and shame, but might also begin to get ticked off and not merely identify with “the great artistic achievements of European culture, the architectural innovations, the paintings, the symphonies” but also to “ask these ‘people of color,’ who think that they can simply bully me into a state of guilt-ridden self-loathing, where is ‘their’ civilization?”
In reality, of course, the heartland of the civilization we by this point all share is located right here in this country, where we inherited from the Founding Fathers both a duty to hang together and a risk of all doing so separately if we fail. Schools need to get busy teaching this fact, and basic life skills like mathematics, instead of discord and resentment.