The Washington Post

Language control in education is indeed a problem

- Washington Clinton, N.Y. The writer is president of Hamilton College. Ithaca, N.Y. The writer is a professor of American studies at Cornell University.

Seeing the headline of George F. Will’s March 9 op-ed, “Woke word-policing is now beyond satire,” I thought perhaps, at last, Mr. Will has written something I might agree with. Alas, no. Let us take a step back and consider that context is everything.

Why would Mr. Will’s column not offer one iota of considerat­ion as to why institutio­ns seek to address the fact that words matter? He might have acknowledg­ed that the war on “wokeness” being undertaken by Florida Gov. Ron Desantis (R), among others, has the power to inflict real harm on all of us. How? By underminin­g the fabric of our democracy — by imposing draconian measures on language in state educationa­l institutio­ns, which seek to deny that the oppression of slavery has reverberat­ed through generation­s and that LGBTQ individual­s are living, breathing people whose basic human rights are under assault. Stanford University’s little language program might be silly on its face, but the university has no legislativ­e power.

Mr. Will should use his immense privilege to call out the would-be autocrats who have the capacity to inflict serious harm on us all.

George F. Will was not wrong to call attention in his March 9 op-ed to excesses in attempts to police language deemed harmful on college campuses, but he ignored the far more systematic and dangerous efforts of conservati­ve activists and legislator­s to control what is said in public schools at all levels. Last year alone, 36 states introduced 137 bills designed to restrict discussion of “divisive concepts” related to “race, gender, American history and LGBTQ+ identities.”

In Florida, House Bill 999 would go even further in public colleges and universiti­es by banning majors or minors in gender studies; defunding diversity, equity and inclusion programs; underminin­g tenure; and barring general education core courses from teaching “identity politics” or defining “American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaratio­n of Independen­ce.”

Surely these efforts to dictate what is and is not said in public institutio­ns of higher education, and to punish teachers who deviate from the prescribed orthodoxy, also deserved Mr. Will’s condemnati­on.

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