Children, Wokeness, and the Tyranny of Culture
Battles over public education have sparked civil conflict in the past—and they might again.
What is culture? We know it when we see it, or when we feel it. It is all enveloping, both everywhere and nowhere, which makes it difficult to define—and difficult to explain to those who believe it is secondary to material and political factors.
I was recently reading Michael Brendan Dougherty's gorgeous book My Father Left Me Ireland. Ostensibly (and actually) a series of letters to the father he longed for, it is also a meditation on how culture forms individuals and families. One begins to get a sense of just how overwhelming and enveloping a culture can be. "A culture feeds you even the terms on which you would resist it," Dougherty writes.
You cannot speak about culture without speaking about education—and specifically public education. I'm reminded of how movements like the Muslim Brotherhood would fly under the political radar, demanding little more than the Ministry of Education in a given country. So little, but so much. Others could conduct matters of state and run the economy (into the ground).
It is a paradox that the left has won the culture wars while simultaneously dismissing the power of the very culture they have come to dominate so thoroughly. It is unfortunate that what might be called "culturalism" is primarily the province of the right. This deprives the left of powerful analytical and political tools that could presumably benefit it. That culture matters quite a lot is also, I believe, true, so to the extent that liberals and the left diminish the role of culture, they fundamentally misunderstand the world as it is. It is little surprise then that in recent years (decades?) Democrats have lamented their perplexing inability to tell stories and to build grand narratives of meaning.
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