Most, maybe all, local school boards or committees hold regular open meetings in which the public can speak near the opening of the proceedings. I’ve been observing some of these meetings in a county that voted 2-to-1 for Trump in 2016 and 2020.
References to “Put parental rights first!” “Parents know best!” “Praise Jesus for the installation of a school board that will finally listen to parents!” and “There is no reason to teach anything about sex besides abstinence!” are commonplace.
Given the incessantly increasing turbulence of the Anthropocene, it is understandable that many want public education to conform to whatever it did in the “Duck and Cover” Era, when America Was (supposedly) Great. The sheer volume of information in the Anthropocene is simultaneously intimidating, exciting, and completely overwhelming. Simpler ways of comprehending and dealing with reality are understandably attractive.
While this graphic is dated, it does give a sense of the exponential growth of information technology (and many other sciences) during the last 125 years of the Anthropocene. It asserts that “the Singularity” is coming when computing power will surpass the capabilities of the human brain. As evidenced by the graph’s estimate of 2023 as the arrival date for the Singularity, its exact beginning won’t be known until it happens, presuming humanity doesn’t precipitate a global calamity before then. But the extraordinary advances being made across multiple scientific and engineering fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and genetics make it clear that an inflection point in history and evolution are fast approaching.
When it comes to the pace of change, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
The 50,000,000 young people attending America’s public schools need to be equipped with the facts and the frameworks that will give them a shot at leading meaningful and relevant lives as this century unfolds. Given that so many members of their parent and grandparents’ generations are in a state of ignorance mixed with denial over something as basic as the reality of climate change, these kids also bear a great burden of responsibility for helping their elders cope with the reality that is unfolding.
The idea that educating the young to move the old toward a better understanding of how to use new thinking and new tools is nothing new in American social policy. The Department of Agriculture set up the 4-H Clubs in the 1890s explicitly to achieve this outcome:
In the late 1800’s, researchers discovered adults in the farming community did not readily accept new agricultural developments on university campuses but found that young people were open to new thinking and would experiment with new ideas and share their experiences with adults. In this way, rural youth programs introduced new agriculture technology to communities.
The idea of practical and “hands-on” learning came from the desire to connect public school education to country life. Building community clubs to help solve agricultural challenges was a first step toward youth learning more about the industries in their community.
The impact of students who were more equipped for modernity than their parents was key to the adoption of technological advances in agriculture, an on-going trend that has contributed the steep decline in the number of rural Americans engaged in farming in the same time frame that the productivity of US agriculture as a totality has increased multifold.
Floria, Where Ignorance Comes to Thrive
In several Southern states there is a concerted effort to keep kids from even knowing about let along grappling with and understanding many features of the Anthropocene. Florida’s attack on education is particularly onerous and well-organized.
Its governor, Ron DeSantis, is basing his administration and his likely presidential run on a culture wars agenda, with the public schools in the cross hairs.
DeSantis boasts that Florida is “Where WOKE goes to die!”
When pressed to define “Woke” while unsuccessfully defending DeSantis “Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees” (Florida 2022’s Anti-W.O.K.E. House Bill 7) before a Federal judge, DeSantis’ lawyer described Woke as
"The belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them."§
That’s actually not a bad definition of the term.
To my understanding, Woke refers to being aware of the intersectionality of such as race, gender, social class, disability, and possessing a curiosity about the physical and social sciences and their findings. These sociological drivers are constantly present in social, economic, judicial, and political life. The unwillingness to explore the dynamics of the interaction among these and other life-permeating influences creates a network of oppression of many Americans based on anti-intellectualism. As Richard Hofstadter’s classic article, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” reminded many, the roots of these “systemic injustices” date back at least as far as the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.
DeSantis’ is attacking on Woke on several fronts:
50% of math texts proposed for classroom use in 2022 were rejected after nearly 6,000 pages were examined and state reviewers flagged several traces of critical race theory and inklings of “social emotional learning” in proposed texts, two topics that have been explicitly targeted by the DeSantis administration. DeSantis publicly blasted publishers for attempting to “indoctrinate” students.
The Florida statehouse passed legislation in 2022 to expand state anti-discrimination laws and prohibit schools and companies from leveling guilt or blame to students and employees based on race or sex. Dubbed the “Stop WOKE Act” by DeSantis, it created new protections for students and workers, including that a person should not be instructed to “feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” due to their race, color, sex or national origin.
Teachers are removing or covering all books in their classrooms because they fear they might be violating state law by not having the texts approved of by a librarian, or “certified media specialist”
Professors are being denied podiums because their presentations might be related to Critical Race Theory in some fashion.
The State is refusing to allow the College Board’s Black History Advanced Placement pilot to be taught in the state because its lessons delve too far into political agendas, broaching topics such as queer studies and abolishing prisons, which “significantly lacks educational value.”
There’s a Special Place for Sex Ed in DeSantis Hell
The deep hostility toward sex education expressed by many in the anti-Woke crowd is especially alarming. Their bodies are ever-present objects of curiosity and study by all young people, and no one is more interested in sexuality than adolescents. They don’t have a choice. Puberty foists the topic on them.
This uneasiness about giving children and adolescents information about sex and sexuality is certainly the case in Florida.
The most recent survey of sexual behavior among Florida public high school students by the Florida Health Department was completed in 2017. Having been a sexually active teenager, which was commonplace when I was that age 60 years ago, I was not surprised by the current findings**:
34% of high school females and 42% of high school males reported that they had ever had sexual intercourse. Overall, 38%, or about 4 in 10, reported that they had ever had sexual intercourse.
5% of the students had had intercourse before the age of 13. 22% by the age of 15 and 57% by the age of 19.
10% of high school students had had sex with four of more partners
13% of those who were sexually active did not use birth control during their last intercourse.
This survey labels sexual intercourse as “risk behavior.” Understanding that adolescents having sex and every child having an interest in the functioning of their body at whatever age is more appropriately defined as “a fact of life.”
It is true that the sexualizing of pre-pubescent children is repugnant to many, me included. Sexual activity is completely natural post-puberty. It’s what’s supposed to happen. Education can give younger children information about what sex is and how it works without encouraging them to obsess over feelings their bodies aren’t yet having.
But the idea that giving young kids some information about the facts of life isn’t the same thing as “indoctrinating” them into a sexual orientation. Nor is providing teenagers with information and contexts with which they can learn about their own feelings, needs and the dynamics of relationships. Doing so helps a population that is going through many kinds of mood swings and hormonal changes comprehend themselves and make thoughtful choices.
The linkage between sex ed and social emotional learning (SEL) is part of what makes SEL such a target by frightened people who want sex and the kind of self-reflection promoted by SEL to remain taboo in places like Florida. SEL’s objectives is
to increase “students’ capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges," for example, sex, sexual orientation, and gender dynamics.
The anti-Woke campaigns inflamed by politicians like DeSantis are an effort to maintain the discussion of race relations, sex and the influence of science on understanding the Earth’s history and social activity in line with norms established before and during the first half of the 20th century in place with only marginal changes.
They are right to believe that Woke shakes up unscientific beliefs regarding these matters.
Gender is not binary. It is largely determined by the way in which people act in their specific cultures. There are many shades of gray in sexual behavior. Heterosexuality seems to be predominant among 80% of the population worldwide. Given the taboo on the expression of anything that is considered to indicate homosexuality in many cultures, one might assert that this figure could be as much as 10% higher than the true demographics. Regardless of what the statistic is, there are lots of variations in the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of heterosexuals.
This is a truth about the Anthropocene that millions and probably billions of parents do not want to admit. When the prophet, Isaiah, said “a child shall lead them,” (Isaiah 11:6), he might well have been referring to the task that lays before the young today. They are the ones who are and will be so aware of the truth of Dylan’s words for this time as much as they were when they were written in 1963.
Come gather 'round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown And accept it that soon You'll be drenched to the bone If your time to you is worth savin' And you better start swimmin' Or you'll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin'
They are the ones who can impress upon their parents the truth that it time for them to abandon the “old road.” The tsunami of the Anthropocene will wash away all outmoded ideas and idols.
Come mothers and fathers Throughout the land And don't criticize What you can't understand Your sons and your daughters Are beyond your command Your old road is rapidly agin' Please get out of the new one If you can't lend your hand For the times they are a-changin'
It is said that “our children are born to transcend us.” They deserve an education that equip them to do so as well as possible in this roller-coaster called the Anthropocene.
§ Judge Mark Walker declared the Stop WOKE act to be unconstitutional and forbade it implementation in higher education. “If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case,” the judge wrote. “But it cannot win the argument by muzzling its opponents.”
** I was not able to determine the sample size of the survey.