I have long held the belief that the most conformist institutions in America are its universities. More recently, I have come to the conclusion that high schools are joining the ranks of universities in regimenting thought among their students. Now, more alarmingly, I have come to the conclusion that grammar schools are turning out goose-stepping student bodies, and even kindergartners are getting into the act.
The student bodies of our country are not being indoctrinated in the Marxist-Leninist claptrap or the fascist bunkum, or even nudism. I am told, however, that the lunatic who recently assaulted Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s poor husband with a hammer was under the spell of the shirtless and pantless ecdysiasts. The assemblage of ideas, idiot yells, far-fetched notions and idle daydreams is the working of a new ideology called wokeness. Wokeness has no bible such as “Mein Kampf” or “The Communist Manifesto,” or even “The Three Little Pigs.” My guess is that not even a woke acolyte would want his or her name attached to a woke undertaking, but they advance wokeness in the schools nonetheless.
Few students can escape its allure. The result is that even a federally funded penal institution has more free thinkers within its walls than a university — for instance, Harvard University. I can well imagine that if the incarcerated population of, say, Rikers Island were polled on who their favorite candidate would be in 2024, the result would be more diverse than if a similar poll were conducted at Harvard or Yale or the University of California at Berkeley. But my mind wanders. All of a sudden, there is hope for freedom of thought in America, and it comes from, of all places, sunny Florida.
A few days ago, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, made a powerful case for freedom of thought not only in our high schools and grammar schools but even in our universities. Said the governor, “We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think.” And he went on, “but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them.” The governor had already rejected an advanced curriculum from the College Board that featured such nonsense as “Black Queer Studies,” “’Postracial’ Racism” and “The Case for Reparations.” The very names of these courses suggest that “an agenda [was] being imposed on them.” That is to say, on the students.
Practically everything about how educators treat students in our educational system is Orwellian, and apparently, Mr. DeSantis and others like him are leading a pushback campaign. Educators talk of their goals of “diversity, equity and inclusion programs.” The acronym for these programs is DEI. Yet there is nothing diverse, equitable or inclusive about such programs.
Mr. DeSantis’ solution is to defund such programs. In December, his administration called upon public colleges in his state to report all spending related to DEI programs. Presumably, their budgets will be eliminated or drastically cut back along with critical race theory, which has also crept into the Florida system. Such programs cost Florida taxpayers more than $35 million annually and have little to do with education. They are political. Not only that, but they are the political residue of left-wingers who have been beaten repeatedly at the polls.
Mr. DeSantis is often mentioned as a GOP front-runner in the race for the presidency in 2024. If this is a sign of his ambition, I think he has picked at least one issue that is popular with Republicans, independents and even Democrats. If he will be as wise in picking other issues, he is going to be a tough man to beat. Parents are tired of having their children returning from school each day, mouthing the opinions of the far left.
Glory to Ukraine!
• R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the author most recently of “The Death of Liberalism,” published by Thomas Nelson Inc.