Has Gen Z had enough of woke?

A growing number of young people are bristling against the strictures of identitarianism.

Itxu Diaz

Topics Identity Politics

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In his 1971 book, Deschooling Society, controversial Austrian philosopher and priest Ivan Illich warned that educational institutions were moving away from their traditional academic roles. He argued that they were increasingly promoting a ‘hidden curriculum’, indoctrinating children in the values and goals of the status quo.

Deschooling Society may have been a sometimes hysterical polemic against the modern world, but it did touch on a problem that has since become apparent today. From school to university, educational institutions are seeking to inculcate a uniform woke ideology in young people.

Of course, colleges and universities have always promoted certain values. Indeed, many were long steeped in the religion of their founders. But until relatively recently, they also used to allow for a degree of academic freedom.

Today, there is very little room for autonomy. In most Western educational institutions, the questioning of certain orthodoxies, from multiculturalism to climate change, is near-enough verboten. Student activism itself is similarly restricted to a few ‘acceptable’ causes and positions. Those who oppose abortion on campus are harassed, and those who refuse to take the knee, BLM-style, are branded racist or fascist.

Yet it’s becoming clear that this inculcation of elite, ‘progressive’ values is generating significant resistance among the young. No matter how unformed some of their sentiments are, they are increasingly bristling against wokeness.

This was brought home to me recently during a discussion with a large group of students in a pub. They were between 19 and 22 years old, and came from across western Europe and the US. At first, as if on autopilot, most of them defined themselves as on the left, or more precisely, as ‘anti-fascists’. But as our conversations progressed, it became clear that they were either opposed to or uncomfortable with many of today’s woke orthodoxies.

Indeed, they claimed to be disgusted by the indoctrination they had received from their teachers at school. They were even more outraged by their experience of it at university. One even told me he confronted a lecturer for his crude attempts to push left-ish propaganda in the classroom.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that some young people are fighting back against woke ideology. Throughout history, young people have come of age by challenging authority, from that of their parents to that of religious leaders. That some are starting to kick against the authority of the ‘progressive’ status quo is probably to be expected.

The boys I spoke to were sick of hearing from teachers and lecturers that they, as men, owe a historical debt to women. ‘What responsibility do I have for the supposedly chauvinist attitudes of my great, great grandfathers?’, one of them asked me.

Others there that evening bristled against environmentalism. ‘At school we were forced to make a kind of pilgrimage through the city to count the traffic with posters against capitalism, cars, or nuclear energy, on Climate Day’, said one. ‘I have never been more embarrassed in my life.’ Interestingly, several of my young companions complained that educational institutions’ embrace of right-on values meant that they no longer had the time to cultivate traditional virtues, such as fortitude or humility.

In the midst of their anger at the establishment, several of the students criticised woke capitalism. They disliked being lectured to by large corporations on everything from trans rights to gender inequality. They railed against the identitarian obsessions of Netflix and the woke drift of Disney. ‘I go to a burger joint for a good meal, or to the cinema to have fun’, said one. ‘I don’t need to be told what to think over and over again – that’s my business.’

If these students are in any way representative of their broader cohort, then a youthful rebellion against wokeism could be brewing. Certainly, lots of polling suggests that a sizable number of Gen Zers are not fully on board with the ideologies they’ve been inculcated in since primary school.

Illich and many others since may have anticipated the woke takeover of education with horror. But what they have failed to anticipate is the backlash. And that should give us hope.

Itxu Díaz is a Spanish journalist, political satirist and author.

Picture by: Clem Onojeghuo / Unsplash.

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Topics Identity Politics


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