“I advise everybody, be a little careful when they go along through there – best stay woke, keep their eyes open.”–Lead Belly “Scottsboro Boys”
How can you understand a problem if you are not allowed to name it?
How can you fight injustice if you are forbidden from learning its history and connection to the present moment?
These questions are at the heart of a well-financed war against a simple term – woke-ness.
Since the summer of 2020, oligarchs and their tools in the United States have been waging a disinformation campaign against that term – especially as it pertains to our schools.
Chiding, nagging, insinuating – you hear it constantly, usually with a sneer and wagging finger, but what does it really mean?
To hear certain governors, state legislators and TV pundits talk, you’d think it was the worst thing in the world. But it’s not that at all.
In its simplest form, being woke is just being alert to racial prejudice and discrimination.
That’s all – just knowing that these things exist and trying to recognize them when present.
I’m not sure what’s so controversial about that. If we all agree racism is bad, why is it undesirable to acknowledge it exists when it’s demonstrably there?
More specifically, being woke means focusing on intersectionality – how issues of race, class and gender overlap and interrelate with each other. It means practicing critical race theory – not the made up dog whistle conservatives use to describe anything they don’t like being taught in school, but the study of how racial bias is inherent in many Western social and legal systems. It means using the lens of Black feminism, queer theory and others to address structural inequality.
Again, why is that a bad thing? If we agree that prejudice is bad, we should want to avoid it in every way possible, and these are the primary tools that enable us to do so.
Our society is not new. We have history to show us how we got here and how these issues have most successfully been addressed in the past.
But these Regressives demand we ignore it all.
Shouldn’t we protect hard-fought advances in human rights? Shouldn’t we continue to strive for social justice and the ability of every citizen to freely participate in our democracy – especially in our public schools?
Of course we should!
But leaders of the backlash will disagree.
Like in so many other areas of our culture, they have stolen the term “woke-ness” and tried to co-opt it into another invented grievance. For people who deride their political opponents as being too fragile and unable to handle reality, they certainly find a million things to cry about on their 24-hour news networks to keep their base angry and engaged all the time.
They have attacked librarians, spied on and harassed teachers, banned books and weaponized the law to forbid certain ideas from our schools and public spheres.
They have targeted and demonized antiracist work. They have tried to discredit the concepts that Black women and LGBTQ people have created to explain and improve the inequitable conditions of their lives.
And the reason is crystal clear – they oppose that work.
They oppose anti-racism. They oppose the rights of Black women and LGBTQ people to better treatment.
They are against everyone but a perceived white, male, heteronormative majority that doesn’t even really exist.
They call their political opponents extremist. They call them groomers. They call them prejudiced and racist.
But it is Regressives’ anti-woke agenda that is really all of those things.
For them, up is down and circles are squares.
As public school teachers, being woke is not a choice. It is a responsibility.
For we are the keepers of history, science and culture.
Who will teach the true history that for more than 400 years in excess of 15 million men, women and children were the victims of the transatlantic slave trade? Who will teach the true history of the fight against human bondage and the struggle for equal rights? Who will teach about women’s fight for suffrage, equal pay, and reproductive freedom? Who will teach about the struggle of the individual to affirm their own gender identity and sexual expression?
We, teachers, must help students understand what happened, what’s happening and why. And to do so we must protect concepts that emerged from decades of struggle against all forms of domination.
It must be us.
It won’t be the College Board, a billion-dollar American business calling itself a non-profit, that after years of stalling finally released its Advanced Placement African American Studies curriculum – a college-level course available for high school students nationwide. In the wake of political backlash, the new course material is as watered-down as weak tea in comparison to previous drafts of the course.
This just goes to show that the free market will never stand up to political power if it is perceived as adversely affecting the bottom line. True education comes not from corporate academic standards or standardized test gatekeepers. It comes from teachers.
And we must teach like never before because our lessons have a pivotal impact on society at large.
Intersectional frames such as those under attack by billionaires posing as populists have been incredibly important in supporting overlooked social problems and addressing today’s human rights failures.
Those of us who know history understand that suppression of knowledge and intellectuals (especially those from marginalized peoples) are a tool used to increase racism and oppression – to overturn the progress of the last century.
Refusing students access to books, criminalizing “divisive concepts,” and discrediting those with whom they disagree have all been tools of domination. Just as denying the persistence of any inequality has been a tool to discredit its victims.
Progress has been made in the last hundred years, but the struggle is not over. And denying that there are any problems left to solve is a way of stifling that progress and turning back the clock against it.
If we give in to these partisan “anti-woke” imperatives, we enable the return of racist and cultural inequalities that had been at least partially rectified years ago. We clear the way for these extremists to bring back a mythical past in which women are meant to be merely subservient to men and where race, gender and sexuality are rigidly defined and limited according to the ruling class.
Teachers, we cannot allow this to happen.
We stand at the gates, the first (and perhaps last) line of defense, because we stand at the schoolhouse doors.
It is a responsibility none of us signed up to take. But here we are.
If we are truly educators, we must teach the truth.
We must put the facts in their proper context.
We must encourage our students to think about what came before and what’s happening now.
We must stay woke.
Or the whole world sleeps.
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13 thoughts on “Stay Woke, Public School Teachers”
“Once you give up the principle of equality, you have given up the whole game. You have admitted the principle that people are unequal, and that some people are better than others. Once you have replaced the principle of equality with the idea that humans are unequal, you have stamped your approval on the idea of rulers and subjects. At that point, all you can do is to hope that no one in power decides that you belong in the lesser group.”
Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, 3/10/2023.
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We must stay woke! Or the whole world becomes the never-ending nightmare.
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Reblogged this on Politicians Are Poody Heads.
Thanks for reblogging, Zorba.
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“not the made up dog whistle conservatives use to describe anything they don’t like being taught in school”
“But these Regressives demand we ignore it all.”
Yay, Siss Boom Baaa. . . give that man a Kewpie doll!
Not only aren’t they conservative but they are reactionary xtian fundie theofascists who want to take America back (in more ways than one) to a supposedly glorious time that never was but will never be.
[…] Or the whole world sleeps. — Read on gadflyonthewallblog.com/2023/03/12/stay-woke-public-school-teachers/ […]
The problem seems to be that the implied contract with the education system is that you will teach fact and not I doctrinal with the opinion of the meaning of those facts. One is instruction thenother is indoctrination.one of Danye’s levels of hell is devoted to those who use their authority to further their personal interests at the expense of the public interest. If there is no hell then abusive power manipulators have no fear
I’m not sure exactly what you’re talking about. Banning books, banning history, banning schools of thought is indoctrination. Teaching the truth and letting students make up their own minds about what to do with it is what I am advocating here.
Thank you for this. We want students to see things systemically…in all disciplines…including history. If you are a mechanic, you must see the engine as a system; you must see the car as a system. How else can you fix one? Why would it be different with History? The difference is, some people want their engines fixed, but don’t want society fixed because society is working for them.
The difference is, everyone knows that an engine contains separate parts that interact only through physical connections between them. But some people don’t admit that society is similarly composed of separate people. There is no spiritual level at which society at large can influence anyone’s actions. But there are plenty of people who believe there is.
And that faith can kill. For example, the country is overrun with cops whose faith in a racial contract drives them to murder innocent people. We need to start teaching kids the difference between the fiction of critical entities themselves, and the brutal and deadly reality of the performances that manifest them — and that we all have the ability and the duty to reject evil fantasy.
[…] Singer, a teacher in Pennsylvania, cannot understand why the word “WOKE” has become a term of derision, when it means being aware of racial and social injustice. Who wants to erase our sense of right […]
I woke up this morning to see more politicians using the term “woke.” I hate the use of that word. You did a better job of explaining “woke” than the poor woman on a recent CNN clip that went viral. (except in the “woke” community).
Thanks, Stefan. I think the term is trying to be co-opted and discredited by right wingers. That’s why it’s so hard to define in the media. The right is using it as a catch all for anything they dislike. Bottom line: they want us all to just uncritically accept that racism and prejudice is over and any claim to the contrary should be met with immediate rejection. That’s what you do when you support the status quo and want to take a giant leap backwards.
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