Should schools teach “Woke”?

Over the past year, it has become almost impossible not to have noticed the term “Woke” in the press, on the radio, TV or on social media.  Many outlets seem to give the impression it is a bad thing which only “trendy” or “young city types” are concerned about, and the more mature and sensible of us should ignore it and put it down to annoying “political correctness”. Rather than just ignore this, I decided out of my own natural curiosity to do a bit of research and find out about the term, woke, and try to understand what the controversy is all about.  My research proved a bit of a surprise and also a little disheartening.

Before I carry on, I looked up the meaning of woke which was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2017 and its definition translates roughly as,

“To be aware of social issues and important facts, particularly of racial and social injustice”.

Personally, I find nothing wrong with this. 

Detractors of woke have put forward the idea of woke as cultural elitism and have tried to project themselves as victims of political correctness or “wokery”, (I have to say I love the term wokery). I believe an example of this was seen in the press recently concerning Kew Gardens.

Kew Gardens decided that whilst they were updating some of their signage, they would give the public information concerning the connections some of their plant collection had to Colonial history, the British Empire and slavery. This move was criticised by a Conservative MP as “Bourgeois liberal arrogance……….” In a popular national tabloid. Personally, I think the move to explain the real context and history behind our plant specimens at Kew, or various statues around the UK is important and everybody should be aware of our true history and not just a sanitised version. I think that hiding the truth about our history is rather sinister and brings up thoughts and images of George Orwell’s book 1984, or Aldus Huxley’s, Brave New world, where people are told versions of the truth or reasons for a particular behaviour designed to fit the ruling elite’s narrative.

At the beginning of this Post, I mentioned I was a little surprised by my findings, the first being that in America, woke as a concept has been around since the 1970’s and the second is that the US Navy has been aware of racial disharmony since the 70’s and actually employed what might be described as woke councillors. I read an interesting article in “Psychology today” written by Rupert W Lacoste PhD. He described his experience in 1974 on USS Intrepid an aircraft carrier, where he was responsible for trying to smooth over and defuse interracial conflicts and to try and promote woke behaviour amongst large groups of a very racially mixed and diverse crew. The reason for this was that during long voyages, racial disharmony was interfering with the day to day running of battle ships. Lacoste described how he initiated a programme of counselling type sessions where he worked with many sailors, and it became one of the most successful programmes of its type at the time.

I also said I was a bit saddened by my research as it has become apparent to me that some sections of society actually take some sort of pride or feeling of pleasure when they claim they dislike woke, or political correctness. I have read comments in newspapers which even make the link that people can be unpatriotic if they display woke or politically correct points of view. 

In summary I believe that schools already teach woke behaviour through the PSHE programmes, and a lot of woke values come under what are called “British Values”, such as tolerance and stopping antisocial behaviour. I therefore think that a lot of the time people blame woke or political correctness for their own frustrations in a bid to find a scapegoat to perhaps hiding their own failings. On the other hand, sometimes, I think that woke or political correctness can go a bit too far and can be self-defeating. I am not giving examples here as I do not wish to offend anyone. Unfortunately, the times when this happens seems to make huge headlines in the daily papers and acts as a “dog whistle” to some sections of society.

Finally, I think woke as an idea, is really about treating others as we would wish to be treated ourselves, and respecting other people’s faiths, heritage, ethnicity, beliefs, and traditions. I therefore think yes it should be taught in schools, but perhaps drop the phrase woke as it seems to cause an instant negative reaction in some.