The French education minister is not amused by #wokeisthe death of discourse. The irony there, I’m sure you can see.
Laurent Wauquiez, who was appointed as the French government’s youngest minister in 50 years last summer, once used a very small stick, a French kitchen implement, to bang nails into wooden blocks.
“It’s a little frustration, but I can live with that, because the project was to turn me into a man,” he said of his primitive clay art back in 2010. “At the moment, it’s my armour.”
In Wauquiez’s mind, he is not living in the political wilderness but rather learning to be a man. And he is building his armour to take on the cyber world that is the United States, which at least as his case study, has been doing a very good job of that for a century.
Now Wauquiez has the culture minister (the male counterpart) commissioning studies to find ways to make the power of social media within the French educational system a guiding principle, so that students will be taught how to handle different kinds of media and threats from within the social sphere.
While Americans have been told that there is no such thing as bad press, Wauquiez insists that Wokeism — the recent movement fueled by the Black Lives Matter movement — is a political issue of significant importance.
“It’s the ideology of wokeism where the capacity to ignore the importance of spoken words has become the first instinct,” he said in an interview. “Our capacity to learn in a normal way has been seriously undermined.”
No one can say that Wauquiez is wrong. Indeed, the idea of students being taught to be sensitive and aware of other people’s feelings is quite powerful and worthy of attention.
“Nowadays, it is not enough that people will ignore bad news on social media. They have every incentive to destroy it. Otherwise, they will simply become unwatchable,” he said.
And that means that the massive and damaging discourse of #Wokeisthe death of discourse is upon us.
Yet in this observer’s view, while it is nice to have diversity, personal safety and combatting threats among the prized qualities of the education system, the notion that educating our children in French is the best way to handle what happens on the Internet these days is morally dubious.
In terms of Wauquiez’s ideological aspiration of educating students to understand how to deal with the problems of the 21st century, this observer has a major problem.
Education and fighting the problems of the 21st century are exactly the kinds of issues where the rule of law, high standards of evidence and the type of common sense that I have grown to know in my 37 years of experience comes in handy, that is, if you can count on your principles in these times to carry you through the fire of the Internet age.
I don’t know of any 20th-century French prime minister who would have approved of spending billions of euros on schools to do the bidding of social movements on issues of race, religion and nationality.
In fact, I think the French should have a chastening wake-up call about their priorities.
But that’s another story for another day.
Jed Lewison is director of online media and training for MRC, a national non-profit public policy and journalism institute based in New York City.