1984 Is Not Just a Dystopian Novel Anymore

Feb 17, 2022 12:00:00 AM


The parent and community groups across the country who are scared of losing their power and control are convincing legislators to create laws that match their fears. The repeatedly banned book, "1984," by George Orwell is being followed with surprising accuracy and coming to life in our nations’ schools. The irony is palpable. The same folks who are trying to limit what kids learn are unwittingly using a banned book as a blueprint to create a totalitarian regime. The impact is furthering the divide, hurting our students, and causing teachers to quit at record-high rates. 

Closeted white supremacists are disguising themselves as concerned citizens (i.e, the “Thought Police”). Perhaps they are aggressively reacting to the racial reckoning of the 2020 murder of George Floyd and Donald’s Trump re-election loss. Regardless, they are attempting to take back their power in harmful ways. Their “double-speak” is not fooling anyone: they don’t actually care about protecting our youth–they care about coming after anyone who is different. And their rage against diversity, inclusion, and equity is obvious and traumatizing. 

While there are a lot of courageous administrators who are prioritizing the needs of their staff members and students, there are still some who are terrified to push back. This reveals who continues to maintain the power in our school systems (hint: it is not historically oppressed and marginalized folks). 

[pullquote]The satirical slogans in 1984 provide a useful structure to break down what is currently happening in our world of education.[/pullquote]  

“Ignorance is strength”

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill is gaining traction. If this bill were to pass, staff members and students who are members of the Rainbow Community (LGBTQIA2S+ folks) would face even more overt discrimination and prejudice than they already do. Not being allowed to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity in our schools would further isolate our members of the Rainbow Community. Would the passing of this law mean that LGBTQIA2S+ students and staff members could be sued if they are honest about who they are? This fear-mongering bill is traveling in the opposite direction of what we desperately need more of in our schools: compassion and support. Identities deserve to be respected and celebrated, not belittled and feared. This bill would cause direct harm in countless ways. 

Last week, the South Dakota House passed two anti-transgender bills: a sports ban and not allowing transgender students to use school facilities that match their gender identity. There are more than two dozen other anti-trans laws being proposed in other states as well. Transgender people are already 18 times more likely to die by suicide than their cisgender peers; these laws will make the statistic even worse. Not meeting the needs of our transgender students and staff members is nothing short of abuse.

The act of banning books has resurged with a vengeance. There has been an especially concerning push to ban books that support diverse identities and educate people about racial genocides (e.g, "Maus" and "GenderQueer: A Memoir"). Keeping students from texts that educate them about varying identities and experiences is tragic and harmful. 

The Senate Education committee in Mississippi passed legislation last month that would ban the teaching of critical race theory. They are not alone: “Since January 2021, 37 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis. Fourteen states have imposed these bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues.” 

Again, [pullquote]under the guise of protecting children, some adults are actively attempting to prevent students from learning the truth. They are supporting ignorance over reality.[/pullquote] To be clear, “politicians [are] grabbing power and making our public schools collateral damage in the process.” The fact that the invention of the internet makes it impossible to completely shelter people from this nations’ repeated and dangerous bigotry makes these bans even more confounding. 

 “Freedom is slavery”

An Iowa House bill was fortunately killed last week that would have required cameras in all classrooms. The fact that this was even considered is alarming. Students and staff members would have no privacy to learn how they learn and to get what they need to thrive without the potential criticism from observers. [pullquote position="right"]“Big Brother is Watching” is not hyperbole in these lawmakers’ eyes.[/pullquote]

Proposed bills are popping up all over the nation that would require teachers to post their curriculum online before teaching. And, in some cases, teachers could be sued for how they cover certain topics. So far—Ohio, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, and West Virginia are interested in creating this controlling legislation. Indiana wants to require teachers to submit a full year of curriculum before they teach it: Every book, every activity, every reading, and every assignment would need to be pre-approved. Competent teachers are flexible and adaptable based on the needs of their students. Students will never effectively learn or get their needs met from robotic teaching. This anti-equity bill does not disguise its desire to further the divide. 

“War is Peace”

Across the nation, parents are consistently challenging school districts for their mental health support of students, “Groups have voiced opposition to suicide prevention programs, mental health coordinators and social-emotional learning, claiming they are being used to indoctrinate students.” Those who oppose students’ getting what they need to thrive are waging war against  Equity 2.0.

Big Brother was the leader of a fictional party who feared losing control. But, in reality, no one was strong, no one was free, and no one had peace. When people don’t understand satire, they miss the whole point: In this case, none of the Party’s efforts actually worked. Desiring that much power and control punishes everyone. This article is spotlighting only a sampling of the laws, policies, and rules being proposed and enforced across our nation. [pullquote]There is no subtlety with the actions of those who are trying to maintain their power by attempting to control what information is shared and how it is taught: their true motivations are glaringly obvious.[/pullquote]

Advocating for Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging (DEIB) will decrease the power of the “Thought Police;” increase understanding, compassion, and empathy; and decrease the Equity/Opportunity Gap. And, perhaps, most importantly, it will help all of us to maintain our humanity. 

Kelly D. Holstine

Kelly D. Holstine, MAE (she/her) is the owner of WordHaven BookHouse, an Equity 2.0 Consultant, an educator, a speaker, and a writer. Website: kellydholstine.com.

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