War on ‘woke’ kindergartens
MOBILE, Al. —— Find any rankings for the worst public education systems in the
nation, and you’ll find a cluster of Deep South states bunched near the bottom. My
home state of Alabama may not be the worst on the list, but it will be among the 10
worst. So will Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina.
Several years ago, Alabama’s leaders decided that an investment in early childhood
education — specifically, classes for 4-year-olds — might help the state climb out of the
basement. Though the effort will require a couple of generations to remediate a century
or more of educational neglect, it was gaining ground: Alabama’s pre-K program has
been nationally recognized for excellence.
Alas, that hasn’t saved the program from becoming a political football in Republicans’
war on “woke.” Last week, Gov. Kay Ivey pushed pre-K’s highly respected executive, Dr.
Barbara Cooper, out of her post for promoting “woke” concepts.
Ivey named Cooper, who had spent years in educational administration at the state
level, the Secretary of the Alabama Department of Childhood Education in 2020. But the
governor forced her resignation over an 800-page manual for teachers that contains
some phrases emphasizing the value of empathy and supportive environments for all
One example from the manual, according to published reports, was the following:
“Children from all families (e.g. single parent, grandparent-led, foster, LGBTQIA+) need
to hear and see messages that promote equality, dignity and worth. Providing support
and encouragement for personal expression and nongendered play – that is, honoring
children’s ideas and choices with respect to gender roles and play – also teaches
children acceptance and communicates their value within the classroom community.”
If that’s “woke,” we all need a huge dose of caffeine so we can get with the program.
What could possibly be wrong with giving all 4-year-olds the sense that they are
Of course, that’s not how conservatives define “woke.” In fact, they have never defined
the word or its much-abused partner, critical race theory. Yet, Republican governors and
GOP-held state legislatures across the country are waging war against those concepts
— apparently seeing in them liberal efforts to, what, press for full equality for all? To
teach America’s actual history? To teach respect for historically marginalized
This has led to foolish skirmishes and ridiculous legislation. Disney is taking Fla. Gov.
Ron DeSantis to court as a consequence of his moves against its Orlando site; the
governor thinks Disney executives are “woke.” This particular feud began when Disney
CEO Bob Chapek publicly opposed a Florida law severely proscribing the ways in which
public school teachers could discuss sexual orientation or gender identity.
Florida is hardly the only state, though, to decide that classroom discussions that even
touch on sexual orientation or racial history are outside the bounds. Since 2021, 44
states have taken steps to curb or ban such discussions, according to Education Week.
In Louisiana, the state Republican Party recently passed a resolution seeking to ban the
teaching of racism at the state’s colleges and universities because examining
“inglorious aspects” of the nation’s history is divisive, according to NOLA.com.
These attempts to whitewash the nation’s history have already led some schools to
abandon milquetoast traditions such as celebrations of Black History Month, which
usually involve references to a few well-known black inventors, activists and celebrities.
Teachers and principals don’t want to get into trouble with a lesson on Rosa Parks or
Ruby Bridges. An Ohio teacher gave up his profession after he was told that he could
not teach his students that slavery is wrong.
Meanwhile, here in my home state, Confederate Memorial Day, a celebration of traitors,
is still an official holiday. Like most Deep South states, Alabama is littered with tributes
to the likes of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. These tributes are divisive, and Lost
Cause ideology is one big lie that attempts to make the Southern rebellion in defense of
slavery a glorious struggle against tyranny. That’s hardly history. It’s propaganda.
But here in Alabama, we shall not be “woke.” Neither shall we be educated, apparently.