Components of the “woke” ideology that’s been spreading throughout the American education system are harmful to children’s psychological development, according to experts and parents who’ve seen the effects first-hand.
The experts noted that many of the concerns raised by proponents of the ideology are real. The way the ideology frames the issues, however, is inappropriate for children. The ideology applies a quasi-Marxist analysis which frames issues of race, “gender,” sexuality, and others as conflicts between “oppressor” and “oppressed” groups. A child is likely to internalize the message as either guilt or victim mentality, both harmful for healthy psychological development.
Even for adults, these aspects of the ideology are likely counterproductive, if not toxic, some experts said.
The term “woke” is sometimes used interchangeably with critical race theory (CRT), which is the most prominent method that operates within this framework.
Negative effects of the ideology have been increasingly rearing their head across the nation, based on interviews with several psychologists and therapists as well as about a dozen parents from different parts of the country.
The polarizing effects of the ideology may prompt rapid changes, one expert noted, but those are unlikely to be wise ones if based on knee-jerk reactions and shaming rather than rational dialogue, another expert pointed out.
Proponents of CRT say it lays the blame on systems and institutions rather than individuals. A school, a justice system, or a country would be labeled as “systemically racist,” for example, if at least one non-white group within it comes out with a worse average outcome than the white group.
Yet the distinction between individuals and systems seems to disappear the moment somebody disagrees with the ideology. Such a person is commonly cast as a supporter of said systems and institutions and thus morally culpable.
Parents Speak Out
Tim Chamberlain, father of two in Guilford, Connecticut, saw the effects first-hand on his eighth-grade son, who recently lost his front teeth in a bullying incident.
Chamberlain described the boy as “a bold conservative” who repeatedly challenged his teachers this year on issues including racial oppression and affirmative action.
“My child was labeled a racist for siding with the conservative voice in the political realm,” Chamberlain told The Epoch Times via email.
It’s no surprise that many look at conservatives sideways in Guilford, a well-off town that voted for Democrat President Joe Biden by about a 30-point margin. This seemed the first time, however, that political divisions escalated to such a degree.
During recess, after the boy hit the ground catching a ball, a classmate approached him and kicked him in the face, knocking out three of his teeth. This was not the first time this classmate bullied the boy and the reason was specifically the boy’s conservative views, as another parent with a child in the school confirmed.
Chamberlain blamed the school leadership and teachers for explicitly presenting progressive positions on race and other issues as correct and the conservative ones as morally reprehensible, following along with CRT logic.
“My son had been willing to openly discuss the topics presented,” he said. “Unfortunately, the way in which presentations were handled and the tone that the school has encouraged is not resulting in greater understanding but actual violence.”
The other parent, whose name has been omitted to avoid retaliation to his son, said his boy “wanted to speak out” in class too, “but he was scared to do so because he would be called names.”
If CRT was supposed to unite the students, it did the opposite, said a parent with a son in a local high school.
“High school is all about cliques and everything else as it is and this is just further dividing things another way,” he said. “My son knows who he could talk to about what. Knows who he can’t talk to about other things.”
Uttering the wrong perspective in front of the wrong person could have consequences.
“Don’t worry dad. He thinks the way we think,” his son once told him about a classmate.
Experts Speak Out
This kind of outcome is not unexpected, according to several experts.
First off, introducing the dynamics of CRT to children in a classroom setting has virtually no track record.
“There are very few research studies in K-12 settings” on this subject, according to Timothy Smith, professor at Brigham Young University and expert on multicultural psychology.
“It’s irresponsible to advocate for practice without data,” he told The Epoch Times.
In his view, some parts of CRT are commendable, such as its emphasis on listening to the experiences of people from whom the society hasn’t heard much before.
If the goal is to “share voices, stories, experiences, then that’s a positive motive that will unite the school,” he said.
“But if the deconstructive side is emphasized, and as currently is the case,” he noted. “The taking sides, the us versus them mentality that is baked in into CRT … that’s going to be a problem.”
CRT would be particularly problematic for younger children who are incapable of treating it as just one of many possible perspectives.
“Literally, they do not have the cognitive capacity to meta-cognize, that is to reflect and to use other ideas to interpret new information,” Smith said.
Many of the CRT-based approaches are likely “well-intended, trying to make children be aware of our history and the issues and challenges that a diverse student body faces,” said another expert, a family therapist and counseling professor at an American university.
“Not everybody’s going to have the same experience and we should be aware of that.”
Still, what’s happening in education is “off the mark, to put it mildly,” said the professor, who requested anonymity out of a concern for reprisal.
“It’s very hard to talk about group dynamics and challenges without individual children feeling like that is their fault or that somehow they can’t make it because they come from this long line of oppressed people and an oppressive country,” the professor said.
As currently practiced, the CRT-based instruction is “sending the message that if you’re of this particular identity that’s historically marginalized you should essentially see yourself as oppressed and a victim and those of you who are part of a group that’s historically been in power or in a majority you should see yourself as part of the problem, part of oppression, and your whiteness is kind of your sin,” the professor said.
“I think that really leads to self-consciousness and shame and I think it doesn’t promote social cohesion.”
Guilt and Shame
The professor has seen negative effects linked to CRT concepts in clinical practice.
“For white clients in particular, they want so badly to be progressive and to not be bigoted in any kind of way,” the professor said, noting “almost an obsessiveness” in this regard.
“There’s a lot of focus on wanting to be a good ‘white ally,’ a good white person, and some shame around being white.”
The professor sees it as a good thing to the extent that it means caring about other people, including people who are different from oneself and may have different life experiences. It appears to her, however, that this focus has been intensified to a point where “there’s kind of neuroticism around it.”
Several other therapists shared similar experiences.
“There’s a huge shift especially among young white males that they automatically feel guilt for who they are,” said Jason Odegaard, therapist in Oklahoma and adjunct assistant professor at Hope International University.
Especially for whites, the woke ideology is “putting a big guilt trip on everybody and they’re having a big struggle in being able to find identity just in who they are as individual people,” he said.
“Instead we’re all lumped into a particular group or subset and that’s affecting mental health across the board I would say.”
Kristina Scarpa, a therapist in California and Odegaard’s wife, has seen negative effects on her non-white clients too.
“They want to be treated just the same as everyone else, not like they’re at a disadvantage,” she said.
After the clients put in all the effort to earn their way through life, the message they get is that, based on their skin color, they need a leg up or else they wouldn’t be able to succeed, according to her.
Some clients of Odegaard’s feel like they can’t express themselves because political correctness turned conversations into a minefield, he said. Other clients put great emphasis on staying on top of the everchanging woke jargon and concepts because “that’s their way of fitting in with people who they perceive as being oppressed.”
The constant urge to avoid potentially offending people from groups labeled as oppressed can even lead to codependency, Scarpa said.
“We walk around on eggshells. … There’s a lot of just keeping stuff to themselves and therefore sacrificing their opinions and their individual thoughts and ideas and that isn’t healthy and that is codependent,” she said.
Smith recently talked to a high schooler who was reprimanded in class for listing “white” as one of the things he was proud of.
“This is not some stereotypical white supremacist student,” Smith said.
“The motive was simply that, ‘I feel good about my ethnic heritage.’ That was the original motive. But what the student came away with was a deep shame for being white.”
Despite Smith’s efforts, the student wouldn’t let go of the belief “that being white is a bad thing.”
“I’m trying to give all sorts of different reasons for why it’s ok to be who you are. But that strong belief would not leave the student. He said, ‘No, it’s good that I feel ashamed. It’s good that I feel ashamed because whites have done so many bad things to other people.’”
In Smith’s view, all perspectives should be uttered and all voices heard.
If education “undermines the voice of any group, that’s a problem,” he said.
It’s not clear, however, how much time should be allotted to listening to diverse group perspectives on every issue.
One Guilford parent was “astounded” to learn that his daughter’s class on World War II consisted of discussions of Tuskegee Airmen, Native American code breakers, and women’s role in the war effort. Apparently, no time was left for historical events like the attack on Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Normandy.
Also, not all perspectives are equally rooted in facts.
One Indiana parent, wife of a law enforcement officer, learned from her eighth-grade son that there was a special session at his school about “Black Lives Matter” and police brutality. A part of it was a video where non-white children talked about feeling like “being hunted” by police.
The session “very much colored police in a very negative, scary light” as if non-white people were being “indiscriminately killed walking down the street” by officers, the mother said.
In fact, there’s little evidence police are indiscriminately killing people of any skin tone. Police killings are usually the result of tense situations, typically a clash with an armed suspect.
Yet the boy now faces classmates conditioned to abhor his father, according to the mother.
“If your entire peer group believes that your father is a brutalizer, a white supremacist, that’s going to have an effect on you,” she said.
Proponents of CRT seem to assume unity and cohesion would come later, after “dismantling” existing institutions they’ve labeled as “systemically racist” or “white supremacist.” That, presumably, would result in new institutions that wouldn’t be oppressive.
But that not only “doesn’t work in real life,” but is also “against human nature,” according to Smith.
“Those are two very different processes cognitively and socially. Deconstruction does not necessarily lead to construction,” he said.
It’s true that culture and institutions created by white people would in great part reflect their own heritage and would thus be easier for them to navigate and control, since they are more likely to be raised to do so since birth.
But if this is “white privilege,” as the term is used by CRT, it’s hardly limited to whites, Smith noted, as “power privilege” exists everywhere in some context.
“They’re inevitable inequities,” he said.
The professor who wished to remain anonymous affirmed a similar point.
“When you’ve got a majority culture or a majority group, you’re bound to have that experience if you’re not part of that majority, where you feel out of place, you’re maybe going to feel more isolation, you’re going to feel uncomfortable, like it’s harder to get yourself heard in that particular environment,” the professor said.
“Some of this is just normal human nature and it should not be pathologized as this big, evil, white supremacy in the way that I think people mean when they use that term today.”
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth addressing, the professor said, but it’s unlikely the current CRT-based approaches will make it better.
“If we want to be in a community and want our kids to be in a community, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic society that functions well together for the most part, we can’t constantly lean into these tribal identities that were marked by past oppression,” the professor said.
“It perpetually pours salt in the wound in ways that don’t actually move us forward.”
Portraying the issues in extreme, binary ways of either “racist” or “anti-racist,” indeed forces people to react and make changes. But “that kind of change is more secure and solid … if people don’t feel coerced or silenced into it,” the professor said.
“How people change and making lasting, positive changes, it’s done through a longer process of people reflecting and trying on something new, learning to listen to other people in a different way, not through coercion and shaming, ultimatums or canceling or fundamentally believing that they’re part of this bad group that they need to atone for in perpetuity.”