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Woke Up

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

The name of Florida governor Ron DeSantis' "Stop W.O.K.E. Act" is offensive and intellectually dishonest. I do not understand what is wrong with being awake.

Yes, I know, the term is woke. For those who do not know, woke is a bit of African American slang from the 2000s to describe people who had first been taught a sanitized version of history, and then when they learned about the bloody nasty parts they were slightly traumatized. And once the truth woke them up from previous misconceptions, many committed themselves to never go back under the veil of ignorance—to stay "woke." The term was a self-parodying Ebonic spin on the term "awake," but it is not as if black people did not know that the word "woke" was really the past tense form of a verb, and not, in fact, an adjective. Just like white people, black people know this. That was the point. It was supposed to be self-parody; like, the way white society sees the way we process English.

But when the governor does it, it is just . . . parody. Because it is clear that he does not get the joke. He seems to actually think that people who read about slavery and colonialism struggle with adverb use and passive verbs.

Which brings me to my original point. Now, I am no English major (I'm lying. UCLA, 1989), but is not the opposite of woke, to be asleep? I honest to goodness do not get this. Mr. Governor, do you actually want us all to be . . . asleep? Is that the state you want to be the governor of? One where we are all living . . . stupid?

Listen, I get it. Slavery might make some white kids feel guilty. But how does it make black kids or Latino kids or Asian kids feel guilty? The law bans teachers from lesson plans "that make people" feel guilty, but the Stop W.O.K.E. Act never specifies the race. So not only can white kids not learn about anything bad that white people have done, but this also means that black kids cannot learn anything bad that black people have done, Asian kids cannot learn anything bad that Asian people have done, and Latino kids cannot learn anything bad that Latino people have done. Now, I am no history scholar (I lie again! Indiana, 2014), but if we follow this logic to its inevitable conclusion, we have completely outlawed the teaching of history. Governor DeSantis, how can you not see this?

Like my car dealer Andy said to me last week, I could understand if there really were an agenda to brainwash children, Mr. Governor. I could understand if scholars and teachers were purposefully out there trying to make kids into future superliberals or whatever. Is that what you think? That thousands of Florida teachers and professors are working on a secret plan for world domination? Or maybe you think that we start out as good teachers, and then we get corrupted by the left-wing agenda?

Well, both of those things are true, and neither are true. Both liberal and conservative teachers often let their personal agenda out in the classroom. But good teachers foreground facts, evidence, real history, and let their students come to their own conclusions. Mr. DeSantis, you do not know it, but you are actually not waging a war against the teaching of history. You are waging a war against the teaching of history poorly. You are waging a war against generalizing when talking about people who have made mistakes of the past, against lazy construction of causal relationships, of erasing the existence of good white people or bad black people. I get it. You are tired of white parents telling you that their kids come home depressed. So you have decided to create an environment where we are just not going to teach anyone anything bad at all. Well I am tired of students coming into my lecture halls with their heads full of half-truths.

Teaching this way really does not give our kids much credit. They are far more resilient than we are. And leading through fear is also not leadership, sir. Leadership through creating an environment of fear is called authoritarianism. You want to be president? As a former naval officer, you should honor your service's primary code of Semper Fortis. Dare to inspire Floridians to be Always Courageous. And we will be waiting.

David Jamison

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