The war for your child’s soul

Why do the woke hate Ron DeSantis? Because he’s making it harder for them to control your kids.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Identity Politics Politics USA

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Just when you thought the woke couldn’t get any weirder, now they want the right to cause psychological distress to your children. How else do we explain their agitation with one part in particular of Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s Stop WOKE Act – namely, the bit that forbids schoolteachers from making kids feel ‘guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress’ on the basis of their race, gender or national origin?

Sure, DeSantis-bashing teachers and leftists are not taking to the streets to chant: ‘What do we want? The right to mess up children’s minds! When do we want it? Now!’ They’re not waving placards demanding the liberty to terrorise the minds of innocents. But their bristling at DeSantis’s ban on the guilt-tripping of children is incredibly revealing. It points to the real reason Ron irritates them so – because he’s locking them out of children’s souls.

The full name of the Stop WOKE Act is the Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act. Its official name is the Individual Freedom Act. It was signed by DeSantis in April last year.

DeSantis describes it as a ‘fightback’ against ‘woke indoctrination’. The law limits the right of both schools and workplaces to inculcate their students and staff with critical race theory and other ‘discriminatory’ ideologies. These belief systems are discriminatory because they’re designed to induce guilt and shame on the basis of skin colour, specifically the white skin colour, says DeSantis. And just as a decent state would not permit ideologues to go into workplaces and schools and bemoan the scourge of ‘blackness’, so it shouldn’t give a green light to attacks on ‘whiteness’, either.

He has a point. If campaigners were going into offices and instructing black members of staff to be ‘less black’, we’d expect some action against that, right? If black employees were being taught by external visitors how to ‘heal from their blackness’, we would think that unacceptable, no? If black schoolkids were being told that they’ve been morally stained since birth, we would surely say: ‘That is racist. Stop doing it.’

And yet all of these things are being done in relation to ‘whiteness’. Coca-Cola encouraged its staff to ‘try to be less white’. There are training courses in Washington, DC and New York City on ‘Healing From Internalised Whiteness’. A school in Manhattan was found to be teaching white kids as young as six that they were born racist. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think anybody, white or black, should be racially shamed in their place of work or place of study. It is wrong and regressive.

DeSantis’s army of critics see it differently. Perhaps they think racial shaming is okay. It is DeSantis’s prohibition on the whipping up of ‘psychological distress’ on the basis of a person’s race, nationality or gender that seems to infuriate them most. There’s a twisted irony here. The woke pose as implacable opponents of racism and sexism and yet they now find themselves in a fight to the death for their right to make people feel psychologically shook over their race and sex.

So the Guardian, noisy hater of prejudice, wrings its hands over DeSantis’s stipulation against ‘guilt, anguish or… psychological distress’ in the classroom, calling it an ‘attack [on] the education system’. A teacher, writing in the Atlantic, describes as ‘pious’ DeSantis’s crusade against ‘“psychological distress” on account of… race’. A startled-sounding CNN reports that this tyrannical governor wants to ‘shield people from feeling “discomfort” over historic actions by their race’ – imagine! – and quotes a black Democratic senator who seems to think it’s good if white people ‘feel uncomfortable’: ‘My ancestors were uncomfortable when they were stripped away from their children.’

This is where we get to the nub of the opposition to DeSantis’s war on woke. The liberal-elite pushback on DeSantis is not about defending educational or workplace liberty, as some claim. Rather, it’s a fight for the right of woke ideologues to manipulate the emotions of students and workers; to induce psychological distress in the masses; to invoke race-based angst; to make all of them feel uncomfortable. It’s about psychology, not pedagogy; mind control, not freedom of thought.

To be clear, DeSantis’s law on woke is not uncomplicatedly good. Far from it. Law is a blunt instrument, especially as regards what can and cannot be taught in schools and workplaces. Florida judges have blocked parts of the law, especially as it pertains to universities and businesses, on the basis that it’s an offence against the First Amendment for the state to tell adult students and free corporations what kind of training and thinking they may trade in.

This was an understandable legal decision. The state should butt out of the free flow of ideas – even toxic ideas – at work and university. My preference is for American workers to take action for themselves, by rising up against the divide-and-rule tactics of the woke boss class that spies in identity politics a wonderful opportunity to reprimand and control the workforce.

But schools are different, surely. Few would question the right of government, ideally in tandem with parents, to set guidelines on curricula and to encourage the dissemination of age-appropriate reading material only. No one wants a nine-year-old reading JG Ballard’s Crash.

Care must be taken even in relation to school reading restrictions, of course. Campaigners are right to be vigilant about excessive censorship even where kids are concerned. But it does seem that the liberal fear of a frenzy of school book-banning under the ruthless rule of Ron DeSantis has been exaggerated. Yes, some books have been removed from schools, including books depicting sex acts between boys at a summer camp and books on how to have a wank. But who’s losing sleep over the loss of tomes like that? Kids don’t need education on ‘gender queer’ ideas, and it’s fine, in my view, for the state to prevent such education.

At root, the elite fury with DeSantis is not about freedom in education, but control in education. They hate DeSantis because he’s making it harder for them to mould and morally instruct your children. Just consider the staggering hypocrisy of the liberal angst over DeSantis’s clampdown on ‘psychological distress’. For decades now, liberals have sought to cushion the young from ‘psychological distress’, whether that’s the distress of playground fisticuffs, being ‘misgendered’, or hearing an idea they disagree with. This over-protection has had some very bad consequences. And yet now these very same mollycoddlers of youth have the gall to pose as the defenders of distress as an essential element of the pedagogic experience. Who do they think they’re kidding?

What they’re really saying is that we must have the right to cause psychological distress in the young. We must have the right to unsettle children, to empty their minds of the dumb beliefs of their parents, to make them feel ashamed of their race and nation, to turn them into pliable recipients of correct-think. Make no mistake – they view DeSantis’s prohibition on stirring up racial distress in the classroom as a barrier to their ideological crusade, which tells you everything you need to know about how foul and illiberal that ideological crusade has become.

Here’s my pitch: distress is sometimes a necessary byproduct of education. Discomfort often accompanies learning. Even children will sometimes feel unsettled by new knowledge, ideally in a safe environment. But setting out to cause distress to kids? On the basis of their race? On the basis of historical events they had nothing to do with? No. That’s cruelty, not pedagogy, and it crosses the line from learning to manipulation. Closing minds, not opening them, is the chief desire of the anti-DeSantis set.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics Politics USA


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