Editorial: ‘Woke’ phantoms behind school walls

Photo Courtesy NAU: Northern Arizona University

Column By John Young

If any evidence were needed that the essence of Republicanism in 2023 is petty white grievance, consider the hit job on an Idaho community college.

Behold, North Idaho College: so evil as it teaches young adults of Kootenai County diesel mechanics and radiography. So demonic as it provides low-cost core courses for people otherwise priced out of four-year ambitions.

So evil that Republicans of the Idaho Panhandle say they must destroy it to save it.

In the midst of a MAGA takeover, the college risks losing accreditation, which could cost it federal funding and hurt students’ ability to transfer credits.

Instructors are fleeing. Administrators have been tossed like rag dolls by “anti-woke” activists elected to positions of power.

The thing is, all of this destruction appears to be barely tangential to education.

The big sin committed by the administration of North Idaho College came in 2020 when the college’s diversity panel issued a statement supporting social justice efforts in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and the murder of George Floyd.

Inflamed, infuriated, incensed, seething with white rage, the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee jumped all over that mole hill. It set out to take control of the college’s governing board. This was quite doable in a county that voted 70 percent for Donald Trump.

Suddenly this contrived caldera was spilling its guts on the bewildered students.

Republicans used terms like “deep state” to identify the administrators ensconced at the college.

They proceeded to fire the college president without cause, except maybe that his wife supported Hillary Clinton. Off with their heads.

Students interviewed by the New York Times expressed bewilderment about what had befallen the school.

One could share that bewilderment, because nothing in the Times’ report implied a disagreement about, you know, education. This appears to be one more example of what Ron DeSantis thinks is leadership in modern times: “owning the libs,” and what Donald Trump represents in his own mind, telling the Conservative Political Action Committee, “I am your retribution.”

Ask the students of New College of Florida, an innovative and notably progressive college in Sarasota, about why DeSantis has taken it over, and understand that they are simply pawns in a power play.

Very little that DeSantis and other Republicans have denounced and targeted, such as the amorphous specter of “critical race theory,” has anything to do with what really happens in our classrooms and the lives that children and collegians experience.

This is Kabuki Theater for a very small segment of American society that, like DeSantis, wants nothing more than to smite liberals and vent their displeasure with a world of difference. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg calls it “threat inflation,” a desperate grasping at straws by privileged people who need a reason to get out of bed.

The No. 1 issue with education isn’t “woke”-ism. It’s homogenization of learning and standardization, a virtual religion among many policymakers. It’s a destructive power play unto itself.

The targeting of schools over tangential issues reminds of a Brookings Institute study of news media coverage of schools. It found the overwhelming majority of news stories had nothing to do with actual learning but tumult over things like sports, school violence, and dust-ups over things like dress codes and religion.

So, the MAGA warriors have constructed a war on phantoms behind school walls.

Charles Blow writes in the New York Times that DeSantis and Trump are champions of a class of charmed individuals who “want the perks of victimhood.”

They indulge, he writes, in “civic gluttony and narcissism in which the market of privilege must be cornered.”

All at the expense of students who just want to learn.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email him at jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author.