Tuesday, May 10, 2022

"WOKE": doing the wrong things for the right reason

Become convinced you are a powerless victim, and you will become one. That's because too much emphasis on injustice backfires. For instance, for centuries African-Americans have dealt with profound injustice in immoderate amounts. But the extreme emphasis on this injustice currently promoted by the most "woke" among us, can all too easily boomerang and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Thomas theorem — well known among sociologists — points to how this happens. In substance the theorem states that when a situation is defined as true, it is true in its consequences. That's why outcomes depend as much on the individual’s perception of the situation as they do on the situation itself.  

When any of the oppressed — be they African-American or otherwise —  become mired in the sticky goo of "poor me-ism," they discount their own agency; their own power to overcome. They even discount their own degree of responsibility for what happens in their lives. And when this occurs, no oppressor is needed. The oppressed have taken on that job themselves.

I spent 50 years of my life as an educator. And one of the saddest and most frustrating aspects of that half century was watching too many disadvantaged youngsters turn their backs on the opportunities schooling offers. In fact, some not only refused to learn, but did their very best to keep others from learning. 

Now it's certainly true that school curricula, policies and procedures are often badly out of step with the world these kid's live in. Nevertheless, the fact remains that slave owners brutally punished ANY attempt to school slaves, as well as any slave attempts to learn on their own. And they did so for a sound reason. Schooling endangers oppressors even when that isn't its intent. But oppressed kids who reject schooling not only suffocate that threat, they ease the way for further oppression.  

Whatever our school's shortcomings, and they are many, especially for kids who are poor, they still offer opportunities. Often the very best of the limited opportunities these kids will ever have. But these opportunities are only available for those youngsters who eschew self-pity, focus on their own agency, take responsibility, and seize the day. But, ironically, the self-righteous, self-serving hand wringing of the excessively "woke" makes that less likely.

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