An American Enterprise Institute scholar says the mainstream media got education’s role backwards in the recent Virginia election (the election where Republicans won all three statewide races, and apparently took control of one house of the previously Democrat-controlled state legislature). AEI’s Rick Hess writes,
progressives and the legacy media have a pretty straightforward explanation for the role education played in last week’s Virginia elections: It was a racist “dog whistle.” The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart said the results showed that Republicans think “tap-dancing with white supremacy is their way back into power.” On election night, DNC chair Jaime Harrison explained on MSNBC, “This is a dog whistle to divide people. And so let’s call it what it is. It is about racial divisions, racial hatred, racial animosity.”
This is not just laughably off-base, it’s exactly backwards.
There’s the sheer weirdness of alleging it’s all deep-dyed racism in a state that President Biden won last year by ten points, where no Republican had won statewide in more than a decade, and where the winners included the state’s first black woman lieutenant governor and first Latino attorney general. Indeed, one needed a sociology degree from Georgetown to keep up with the rationalizations, what with black Republicans dismissed as the new face of white supremacy and Latino voters, long heralded as a cornerstone of the emerging Democratic majority, now denigrated as just another batch of white voters.
But such critiques of the “it’s all racism” explanation, while true, understate the significance of what Republican Glenn Youngkin did in winning the gubernatorial election.
In a high-turnout election, Youngkin won independents and made gains across the board — especially with school-age parents. This is an odd sort of racism. So, maybe there’s another explanation.
Youngkin didn’t use education to goose the base; he used it to bolster the image of him as a sensible, personable suburban dad and to connect with suburbanites and disaffected Biden voters. His education pitch was geared to showing that he understood how disruptive school closures were and why parents would be concerned when their high schooler starts lecturing them that urban riots are really just a heroic response to white supremacy culture …
For a long time, education has been a big part of how candidates courted the center. It gave them an opportunity to talk expansively about opportunity, responsibility, and shared values….This approach has fallen by the wayside in recent years…In 2020, pushed by the sweeping offerings of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden played to the progressive base, embracing “free” college, college loan forgiveness, universal pre-K, and massive new federal outlays for K-12.
Well, the Virginia race was a case of back to the future.
When it came to education, Youngkin mostly argued that schools need to be open, listen to parents, and reject outlandish, ideological agendas. And this was an easy argument for him to make. After all, whether “critical race theory” (CRT) is formally taught in Virginia or not, CRT is certainly present in Virginia’s schools. Virginia’s Loudoun County was telling teachers that ideas like “independence and individual achievement” are racist hallmarks of “white individualism.”
In response to the complaints about CRT, sexually explicit images in school libraries, and school policies relating to gender, Youngkin’s Democratic opponent, former governor Terry McAuliffe, tellingly said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” And then, despite parental frustration with Virginia’s prolonged school closures, in a tone-deaf bit of stunt-casting, McAuliffe had American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten — perhaps the individual most associated with excessive, intransigent school closings — headline his final rally.
In the Virginia race, education helped Youngkin convince suburban parents that he got their frustration and felt their pain…schools ought to be open, responsive to parents, and reject racial caricature and campus-style extremism.
By contrast, the Democratic candidate for governor, Terry McAuliffe, had catered to advocates of critical race theory. As a Manhattan Institute researcher pointed out, “Terry McAuliffe claims that critical race theory has ‘never been taught in Virginia [schools].’ But in 2015, when he was last governor, his Department of Education instructed public schools to ’embrace critical race theory’ in order to ‘re-engineer attitudes and belief systems.'” Critical race theory is playing a growing role in school systems in northern Virginia, such as in Fairfax, Arlington, and Loudoun Counties.
Critical race theory books advocate discrimination against whites. The “key concept” in Ibram Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist is that discrimination against whites is the only way to achieve equality: “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination,” writes Kendi in that book, which is a “comprehensive introduction to critical race theory,” according to the leading progressive media organ Slate. Kendi is a leading “critical race theorist.”
Virginia’s largest school system, the Fairfax County Public Schools, applies critical race theory. The Washington Times reports that a “slide presentation this summer instructed social studies teachers in Fairfax County Public Schools that ‘critical race theory is a frame’ for their work.” That slide presentation, titled “Renew, Reflect, Re-imagine: Enacting a Critical Lens for Student Empowerment,” was presented in August during an in-service day for K-12 social studies teachers in Fairfax County. The presentation is available on YouTube. It also describes critical race theory as a tool of “community engagement and communications.” Alicia Hunter, the K-12 social studies coordinator for Fairfax County Public Schools, led the discussion.
The schools in neighboring Arlington County assign books by critical race theorists such as Ibram Kendi to students. Arlington distributed hundreds of copies of Ibram Kendi’s book “Stamped” to students at Wakefield High School. The book contains many errors and celebrates a Marxist who defended the jailing of Jewish dissidents by the former Soviet Union. It also peddles conspiracy theories and is dismissive about Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass.
Virginia’s official “Roadmap to Equity” published by its Department of Education thanks critical race theorist “Dr. Ibram X. Kendi” in its acknowledgments section, saying, “we would like to acknowledge the following organizations and thought leaders for their research and scholarship contributions that have informed the development of the EdEquityVA Framework:…. Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.” Kendi says he was “inspired by critical race theory,” and that he cannot “imagine a pathway to” his teachings “that does not engage CRT.”
That official Virginia state “roadmap” applies the principles of critical race theory, rejecting equal opportunity in favor of equal outcomes. It promotes “equity” rather than equality. “Equity” is about racial “outcomes,” not equal “opportunities” or achievement based on “ability.” It advocates “eliminating the predictability of student outcomes based on … ability [or] socioeconomic status.” But it is entirely predictable that a student with more “ability” will perform better than a student with less “ability.” Moreover, if poor students from broken homes “predictably” do worse because they are less prepared for school or have lower IQs, this is not the teacher’s fault. Virginia teachers are now expected to show a “commitment to equity” in their annual evaluations — which could easily become an ideological litmus test.