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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Culture war takes prisoners in the classroom

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is pictured.

Despite the conservative critique that the liberal agenda is negatively affecting the way that young students are taught history, conservatives now seem to be refusing to teach a paramount part of American and world history. The state of Florida, led by conservative Gov. Ron DeSantis, threatened to ban a new Advanced Placement African American Studies course over concerns that it was pushing a liberal agenda and lacked educational value by including topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement and black queer studies. He threatened to do so under the authority of the state’s anti-critical race theory law called the Stop W.O.K.E Act. 

This latest incident is just another episode in the circus that the modern culture war has become. Education has consistently been one of the hardest-fought fronts, with conservatives going to ridiculous lengths in an attempt to remove “woke” ideology from curricula in the name of fighting back against the liberal indoctrination of children. This frivolous pushback is only a distraction from the realities of inequity in the United States.

Although the ostensible purpose of Florida’s intent to ban the AP course is the argument that the course is teaching ideology rather than history, Republicans are ironically the ones threatening to censor the teaching of history. Quite simply, oftentimes ideology is history. Florida objected to contemporary topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement, black queer studies and the debate over reparations. Although these topics are contemporary, that does not make them any less important. The Black Lives Matter movement, for example, is undoubtedly an important subject in African American studies due to its prominence and cultural impact, so there is nothing dubious about it being included in the curriculum.  

This isn’t the first time DeSantis has mixed conservative politics and education. He opened the door for it when he signed into law a bill which made applications for college presidential positions confidential, providing boards with the opportunity to make controversial decisions under a layer of secrecy. The effects of this decision were felt immediately when the University of Florida appointed Nebraska’s Republican Sen. Ben Sasse as its new president. Sasse’s experience in higher education consists of his presidency of Midland University, a very small Lutheran school in Nebraska. Sasse is better known as a conservative senator, and given that he is an opponent of President Trump, whom DeSantis seems likely to run against in the 2024 presidential primary, it is very hard not to view his appointment as politically motivated. 

Despite this, it is DeSantis who continues to peddle the narrative that liberals corrupt children with politics in schools. His sanctimonious grandstanding culminated in a speech in which he declared “we must fight the woke in our schools” and “we can never, ever, surrender to woke ideology.” The speech was meant to be reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech during World War II, yet the culture war to which DeSantis refers to is a sorry burlesque. 

There is a reason conservative politicians such as DeSantis and commentators like Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson and Jordan Peterson spend so much time promoting these culture war issues. For conservatives, it is a powerful distraction. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek makes a compelling argument against participating in the culture war by arguing that both the “woke” left and far right engage in discourse as a means to distract genuinely marginalized groups from real issues of inequality, while the wealthy and powerful maintain the status quo. 

College Board’s African American Studies course does not represent a substantial shift from the status quo. However, when conservatives make a spectacle out of even these small measures, liberals spend their energy fighting for that which should not need a second thought. Perhaps the liberal elite play into this game of shadows on the wall deliberately, in order to protect a status quo from which they benefit. It is important to avoid playing this game of shadows on the wall in order to seek real change.