Institutional Wokeness Hurts US Status Abroad by Sapping Our Strength Within

The ideological conformity and revolutionary zeal that’s taking over Western institutions threaten to not only “fundamentally transform” society, they threaten to destroy the bedrock of what made us so successful to begin with.

Political scientist Walter Russell Mead recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal that campus wokeness is hurting America’s position globally. The increasing need for ideological conformity, along with the lowering of standards, is making American schools less appealing to many people outside of the West.

That’s especially true given the increasing cost of higher education.

“The idea of paying $80,000 to a second-tier American research university where your son decides that he is really your daughter isn’t as attractive to these parents as in a more utopian world it might be,” Meade wrote. “Reports of declining academic standards at some institutions, or of the politicization of science at others, can be more damaging still.”

That’s likely true. America is becoming known more for exporting wokeness than cars. Given its destructiveness here, one can see why other people don’t want to be infected by this contagion.

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But for most Americans, the larger issue is less about our appeal abroad and more about how Western elites don’t feel pressure to change course. Maintaining status and privilege in places of power is now more about ideology than anything else. You can keep your job if you are incompetent—as long as you show that you are for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Furthermore, President Joe Biden just threw a lifeline–in the form of a student loan bailout–to this ecosystem to stay its course despite its failures. Instead of addressing the outrageous higher education bubble, and its undue, increasingly negative influence on society, we are giving it a bailout on the backs of American taxpayers.

There’s a reason why the most elite secondary prep schools are the most radical, even more so than many public schools.

We are becoming a vast, national college campus.

If you can’t navigate the woke language and ethos of elite spaces–fed almost entirely by our system of higher education–you will quickly find yourself canceled and replaced by someone who can. 

That’s what’s collapsing America’s global position.

Skating by on politically correct mediocrity is becoming the easiest path to success in the U.S. What’s valued by a society’s perceived elites tends to trickle down to everyone else—in this case, with decidedly negative results.

A story about collapsing reading scores in a California school district highlights the issue.

Time magazine reported in mid-August that for years, schools in the Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, Calif., successfully used “very structured, phonics-based curriculum” to dramatically improve the reading scores of students. But the program was dropped in 2015—and reading scores plummeted dramatically.

Why was the program dropped?

Kareem Weaver, an Oakland teacher, explained that teachers hated the reading program because it was difficult. Time explained how the successful program was replaced by an easier and mostly ineffective one that focused on activism.

“Those who wanted to fight for social justice, they figured that this new progressive way of teaching reading was the way,” said Weaver, who was critical of the change.

The result of the curriculum transfromation was catastrophic for the predominantly black and Hispanic students in the school district. From Time:

[I]n 2019, even before the pandemic upended instruction, only 35% of fourth-graders met the standards for reading proficiency set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an even lower number than in 2017. Only 21% of low-income students (measured by whether they qualify for free school lunch), 18% of Black students, and 23% of Hispanic students can be considered on track for reading by fourth grade.

This transformation of K-12 education into little more than a series of substandard indoctrination camps isn’t affecting only Oakland. School districts around the country—even in purple to red states—are promoting “woke math” and other programs that focus on social justice and activism over traditional curriculum.

“Minneapolis Public Schools will spend more than $2 million to incorporate ‘ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity’ into the K-5 math curriculum,” the Washington Free Beacon reported in early August. The new program focuses, according to the Free Beacon, on “the lived experiences of our Minneapolis students and develops positive math identity.” This, while only 43% of Minnesota Public School students are proficient in math, “14 points lower than the Minnesota average.”

School districts in other states, such as New York and Virginia, have been intentionally eliminating accelerated programs in the name of “equity.” You can’t have some students getting ahead and making everyone else look bad. Better to let them all know they are oppressed or at least be a good “ally” to the oppressed and soothingly talk about why failure isn’t their fault.

When you combine the general dysfunction of the COVID-19 pandemic and the revolutionary zeal now endemic to American institutions, you get a complete societal loss of basic competence. That teachers become lazy and take the easy path, rather than the hard one, is simply human nature.

Why put in the work—the real work—in math and reading when you can “do the work” of indoctrination and sloganeering?

As a society, we are incentivizing radicalism and mediocrity. Of course, when students from households on the lower end of the income spectrum ultimately fail in such a system, their failures can be written off as a product of “systemic racism” or “oppression.”

What then-President George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations” has been institutionalized.

We now have a perfectly self-sustaining race to the bottom, where failure actually justifies the increasingly woke absurdities foisted on us by the ruling elite. 

The result of this transformation in the West, if left unchecked, will work for a handful of elites who use and abuse that ideological system to gain and retain power. For everyone else, the result will be a total civilizational breakdown. 

All incentives for merit and self-improvement are being reverse-engineered. There’s little reason to strive and work hard to be better at your job—whether in elite or in middle- and working-class environments—when the system rewards and incentivizes ideological conformity over anything else.

Yes, some will choose the harder path. Some will strive and some will dissent, even through the threat of cancellation or being pushed aside by those who are most vociferously doctrinaire. But will most people choose the more difficult route when it offers hardship and a quick exit from the ladder of status and success?

Probably not.

Perhaps, for a generation, revolutionary zeal can sustain itself in the face of dysfunction and repression.

Eventually, as the rot sets in, prosperity dries up, and as the oft-repeated mantras become entirely predictable and obviously untrue, malaise will become the norm. The arc of that history ends with an intellectually and spiritually sapped society that, with an unexpected push, can quickly list into oblivion.

The end of the Cold War and fall of the Soviet Union should not have been just a moment of triumph, but reflection.

What happened there can happen here, too, with American characteristics.

Those who still wish to see the West built on the traditions that made it great to begin with need to redirect power away from the institutions that are failing us and that are promoting this bankrupt ideology.

What goes woke doesn’t always go broke, but it does break. It’s time we stop giving those who promote woke values a blank check to keep the revolution going.

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