The fightback against wokeness has begun

Long-read

The fightback against wokeness has begun

The classroom will be the key battleground in the 21st-century culture wars.

Frank Furedi

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Topics Identity Politics Long-reads Politics UK USA

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One of the most significant events of 2021 was the revolt of frustrated and angry parents in Virginia, against the teaching of so-called critical race theory in local schools.

The revolt precipitated the shock defeat of a one-time Virginia governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, at the hands of Republican Glenn Youngkin in November’s gubernatorial elections. This was not just a serious setback for the Biden presidency, in a state the Democrats won easily in 2020; it also demonstrated, perhaps for the first time in the current phase of the culture wars, that the social-engineering efforts of America’s cultural elites can be contained – and perhaps even defeated.

The parents’ revolt certainly laid bare the arrogance of the cultural elites. This was personified by McAuliffe himself, who responded to parents’ concerns about their children’s education with undisguised contempt. ‘I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach’, he declared during a televised debate.

McAuliffe wasn’t alone in this. As the parents’ revolt spread throughout the United States, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) wrote a letter to the president demanding that parents’ protests at school-board meetings be treated as ‘domestic terrorism’. US attorney general Merrick Garland seemingly agreed with the NSBA, and called on the FBI to act against those parents threatening ‘school administrators, board members, teachers and staff’.

Others attempted to dismiss this parents-led rejection of woke pedagogy as a Republican stunt. Former US president Barack Obama told Virginia voters to ignore what he called ‘trumped-up culture wars’, and dismissed parental concerns as ‘fake outrage’.

These attempts to denigrate or dismiss the protests ignore their main driver – parents’ concern about the academic and moral education of their children. Many adults may silently put up with manifestations of woke culture in everyday life, but they will react when they realise their child is being encouraged to adopt values antithetical to their own.

This is not confined to the US. Parents in Great Britain and other parts of the Western world are also confronted by similar attempts to inculcate a woke worldview in their children.

Why has this started to come to a head over the past year? Online schooling during the pandemic almost certainly had something to do with it. It meant parents could listen in and find out what their children were being taught. As Caroline, a mother from north London, told me recently, ‘I was shocked and appalled when I heard my daughter’s teacher drone on about white privilege’, and how children might be ‘subconsciously perpetuating it’. For Caroline, this was a Road to Damascus moment. ‘I converted from being a trendy leftist Remainer to someone who is constantly on alert with her anti-woke radar.’

Caroline and many other parents have discovered that their children’s schools have become centres of indoctrination. They have learnt that children as young as six or seven are fed propaganda that presents white privilege as a fact of life, national history as a source of shame, and gender as a choice. They now understand that the classroom has become the most important site of the culture war.

Teaching toddlers to be woke

As I point out in my book, 100 Years of Identity Crisis, the question of who gets to decide how children are socialised is central to the long-running conflict over cultural values. Over the past century, this has created a tension between the social-engineering ambitions of progressive pedagogues and the attitudes of parents. This tension has often developed into conflict as schools have committed themselves to minimising or displacing the role of parents in the socialisation of their children. Since the turn of the century, this trend has accelerated to the point that even nursery and primary-school children have become the targets of ideologically motivated curriculum engineers.

Take Oregon’s ‘Kindergarten 2021 Social Science Standards’, which were approved for classroom use in March of this year. This curriculum effectively immerses youngsters in identity politics. It suggests that children as young as three should ‘engage in respectful dialogue with classmates to define diversity, comparing and contrasting visible and invisible similarities and differences’. On what kind of planet do three-year-olds conduct ‘respectful dialogue’ over ‘visible and invisible similarities and differences’?

In reality, the point of the exercise is to make children hyper-sensitive to racial differences and encourage them to internalise an identity-based consciousness. This is why this curriculum suggests that five-years-olds should ‘develop an understanding of [their] own identity groups including, but not limited to, race, gender, family, ethnicity, culture, religion and ability’. The main objective of this curriculum is to introduce youngsters to an identitarian worldview.

When small children are exposed to topics suitable for mature adults it is clear that indoctrination rather than education is taking place. One Virginia school district shared a video aimed at seven- to eight-year-olds on its website. ‘Woke Kindergarten 60 Second Texts: Safe’ featured such nuggets as ‘I feel safe when there is no police’. The author of this nauseating video, Ki, goes by the pronouns they / them and describes ‘their’ role as ‘an abolitionist early educator… currently innovating ways to unlearn, heal, liberate and create with their pedagogy’.

In UK primary schools, children are often taught to question their gender identity. For example, trans charity Stonewall’s School and College Champions Scheme, to which many UK schools have signed up, provides guidance to primary schools. This states: ‘Everyone has a gender identity. This is the gender that someone feels they are. This might be the same as the gender they were given as a baby, but it might not. They might feel like they are a different gender, or they might not feel like a boy or a girl.’ It seems trans activists are far more interested in influencing the outlook of young children than in helping them to gain confidence about who they are.

Advocates of politicising the early years curriculum claim that it is never too early to intervene and insulate children from the prejudices of their family environment. Take this teaching guide produced by campaign group #Disrupt Texts, in association with Penguin Random House. It features the preposterous claim that ‘research has shown that babies as young as six months old show racial preferences’. According to #Disrupt Texts, ‘learning to be anti-racist is work that even our youngest of children can and must do’.

The fightback against wokeness has begun

There’s a reason why social engineers are so keen on early years intervention. They believe that indoctrination is most effective when it is directed at those who have not yet learned to think for themselves – namely, toddlers. This is why advocates of ‘decolonising the curriculum’ and critical race theory insist that unconscious bias can be detected in children before they can speak. And why identitarians warn nurseries that children could pick up dangerous, negative gender stereotypes from books, such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea.

The media and the publishing world have piled in, too. Read Buzzfeed’s ‘16 excellent gifts for woke babies’ and you will come to understand the kind of culture woke elites are trying to impose on your kids. Buzzfeed even suggests a colouring book that explores ‘the subjects of transness, gender creativity, intersexuality and sexism in a positive and playful fashion’.

And so the indoctrination of babies and toddlers continues apace. All with the intention of stopping children internalising the ‘unconscious bias’ of their family environment.

Keeping parents in the dark

Zealous activists are in competition with parents over the socialisation of children. Not that they want parents to know this. This is why, in some cases, schools and teachers have decided to keep parents in the dark about the content of course material. This disturbing development is explored by Bonnie Snyder in Undoctrinate: How Politicised Classrooms Harm Kids and Ruin Our Schools – And What We Can Do About It.

Snyder explains that the promotion of woke ideology occurs ‘without full disclosure, open discussion or buy-in from the people with final responsibility and ultimate authority over the education of children: the parents.’ She adds:

‘In some cases, this lack of transparency is deliberate, with the intent to conceal motivations, when an activism-oriented teacher senses that not everyone in the community shares the educator’s allegiances. This can be undertaken paternalistically, with the assumption that those who are “better educated” are justified to withhold contentious information in the service of a righteous cause and for the improvement of those less ennobled or less aware (less woke, in the current parlance).’ (1)

Snyder cites instances where teachers openly discuss how to ensure that parents remain unaware of teachers’ ‘equity / inclusion work’ – because parents are perceived as an obstacle to the implementation of their social-engineering programme. Teacher trainers in one North Carolina district even encouraged teachers to ‘ignore parental concerns and push the ideology of anti-racism directly to students’.

In some instances, pupils are told by their teachers not to discuss the content of their classroom discussions with their parents. A class of nine- and 10-year-olds in Minnesota was instructed by teachers not to repeat the questions on their ‘equity survey’ to their parents.

In numerous schools in the US and the UK, teachers have also taken it upon themselves to keep parents in the dark about the gender identity chosen by their children. In August, new guidelines issued by the Scottish government indicated that children as young as four would be allowed to change their name and gender at school without their parents’ consent. By denying parents knowledge about a crucial life-changing event involving their child, the Scottish government is undermining the capacity of mothers and fathers to influence the development of their child. These guidelines not only encourage children to transition, but also undermine parents’ authority over some of the most important aspects of their child’s development.

The fightback against wokeness has begun

From education to indoctrination

What some educators describe as ‘equity / inclusion work’ is best characterised as a project designed to estrange children from the values of their parents, nation and community. This ambition is captured well in the idea of ‘decolonising the curriculum’. This is now a thoroughly mainstream idea. England’s largest teaching union, the National Education Union (NEU), published guidance this summer calling for the decolonisation of every subject and every stage of the curriculum. ‘From curriculum to routines to classroom layout’, the NEU claims, ‘our education system has been shaped by colonisation and neoliberalism’.

In the fantasy world of the decolonisation movement, it seems that everything – from the way children sharpen their pencils to the way songs are sung in the classroom – is pervaded by the toxic influence of events that occurred two to three centuries ago.

What’s more, the NEU self-consciously urges its members to embrace the role of culture warriors, charged with the mission of undermining the cultural values of British society. It explains how specialist decolonisation ideologues could ‘train teachers and schools on whiteness, anti-racism, creating tools for critical self-reflection’, all to the end of making ‘white privilege and colonialism visible in schools’. The NEU also recommends what it calls ‘activist training for teachers’. Teachers are no longer there to educate – they’re there to serve a political cause.

The decolonisation movement has no interest in what happened in the colonies, or in the workings of British imperialism. Nor is it interested in providing quality education to children. Decolonisation is a roundabout way of destroying the foundational values of British culture. Because, like all forms of woke pedagogy, its aim is to portray society’s values as forms of outdated prejudice that should be combatted. The costs of such an approach are high. By displacing education with indoctrination, woke activists deprive children of access to knowledge and culture.

The cause of decolonising schooling is strongly supported by the publishers of educational resources. Recently published guides and course material for teachers consistently call for children to be educated in the language of the culture wars. The Free Churches Group’s Anti-Racist RE guide encourages religious-education teachers to challenge supposedly outdated ideas and promote the virtues of a ‘decolonised curriculum’. Anyone reading this document would struggle to find anything that has even a remote connection with religion. It is far more concerned with intersectionality, whiteness, white privilege, unconscious bias, cultural appropriation and microaggressions.

As we have seen in the case of the NEU, curriculum engineers are often marching in lockstep with teachers’ unions and official and quasi-official bodies. In Scotland, teachers are invited to take a white-privilege test to help them participate in the decolonisation of the curriculum. And the Scottish government itself has urged teachers to identify ‘white fragility’, defined as the clumsy defensiveness of a white person when confronted with information about racial inequality and injustice, which it says ‘upholds white supremacy’.

A threat to our way of life

Parents in Virginia and elsewhere have learned that one of the main casualties of the culture wars in schools is academic learning. Advocates of decolonising the curriculum are indifferent to the quality of children’s education. Indeed, they often denounce the attempt to uphold standards as an expression of white privilege, dismissing rules of grammar or a rigorous maths education as a threat to an ‘inclusive classroom’. Many parents have learnt that woke pedagogy’s commitment to political indoctrination comes at the cost of education. Despite their rhetoric of critical thinking and dissent, woke pedagogues render the curriculum simplistic and formulaic.

Take the approach to reading and literature adopted by #Disrupt Texts. On the #Disrupt Texts website, Julia Torres, who describes herself as an ‘Educator for Liberation’, claims that white supremacy ‘shows up in one important way, the worship of the written word’. She complains that the celebration of some written texts as ‘classics’ is a problem. There is something too ‘Western’ about the ‘worship’ of the written word, she says.

When teachers criticise those who take the written word seriously, you know that education is in trouble. Earlier this year, one Massachusetts high-school English teacher even boasted on social media about getting Homer’s Odyssey removed from the school curriculum.

Make no mistake: this indoctrination is a threat to our communities’ way of life. It estranges children from the intellectual legacy of their society. It strips education of its academic and intellectual content and ill-equips children for their adult role as democratic citizens.

For too long, those concerned with the culture wars have focused their attention on universities. But it is the school where the battle for hearts and minds is really being fought. Finally, parents have realised that unless they rise to meet the challenge posed by woke pedagogy, they risk losing their authority and influence over their children. The parents of Virginia have shown that it is possible to protect education from the powerful forces trying to politicise and, ultimately, destroy it. The fightback against woke is just getting started.

Frank Furedi’s 100 Years of Identity Crisis: Culture War over Socialisation is published by De Gruyter.

(1) Undoctrinate: How Politicised Classrooms Harm Kids and Ruin Our Schools – And What We Can Do About It, by Bonnie Snyder, Bombardier Books, 2021, pp27-28

All pictures by: Getty.

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