By now, it is old news that the GOP swept all three Virginia statewide offices and reclaimed a majority in the House of Delegates during this past November’s elections. With Glenn Youngkin defeating Terry McAuliffe to become the 74th governor of Virginia, the 2022 midterms look bleaker than ever for Democrats, who have struggled to maintain unity since taking control of Congress and the White House in recent years. As Virginians, we are left with an uncertain future. After the state voted for President Biden by 10 points in 2020, Youngkin’s win comes as an upset, establishing Republican leadership in a state that had by all accounts been following a blue trend for years.
This begs an important question for Virginians — what can we expect from Youngkin’s leadership? The reality of the situation is that Youngkin’s victory will reflect a new direction for Virginian education — one that threatens to bring our state backward rather than forward.
Glenn Youngkin ran on a platform aiming to both appeal to Virginia’s Republican base while courting independent voters. Naming election integrity as his top issue during the Republican primary, he went on to distance himself from former President Donald Trump and downplayed his traditional conservative views on abortion and gun rights — even admitting in a secretly recorded video that he would not speak publicly about his views on abortion before the election. Youngkin struck gold, however, with education. The governor-elect seized on parents’ frustrations over COVID-19 lockdowns and fears of critical race theory being taught in public schools. By taking advantage of a quote from Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe that parents should “[not] be telling schools what they should teach,” Youngkin made promises to ban the teaching of critical race theory on his first day as governor. Though this wasn’t the sole reason he secured the governorship, it was a sizable one.
The problem? Critical race theory has become a hot-button issue — one that has galvanized conservatives across the country — but few people are able to correctly define what it is. When concerned parents and pundits lambast critical race theory, they envision a classroom setting — typically one filled with young children — where white students are made to feel ashamed of their race and students of color are elevated above their white peers. The truth is far less insidious. Critical race theory is defined as an academic discipline centered around the idea that race is a social construct, and that institutional racism is embedded in legal institutions. But critical race theory is primarily taught in graduate schools, not at the K-12 level. Media representatives for the Virginia Department of Education have even gone on the record to assert that it is not listed in the Commonwealth’s Standards of Learning.
Instead, what opponents of critical race theory really fear are more inclusive approaches to education in this country. They claim that teaching about racism or the history of prejudice and privilege in the U.S. will convince white children to hate themselves, or pit students of different races against one another. They argue that no child should be made uncomfortable in the classroom. But isn’t the very nature of education to make individuals uncomfortable? Learning is an inherently difficult process. It forces individuals to think for themselves, to wrestle with ideas they are unfamiliar with and emerge from the process a more well-rounded person. Teaching about race isn’t going to make white children hate the color of their skin, but will make them more conscious of the ways in which color affects society — and that is precisely what opponents of critical race theory want to prevent. Anti-racist education is — and should be — uncomfortable, because our racist past is uncomfortable.
Glenn Youngkin himself said that children should not be taught “to view everything through a lens of race.” But this statement only applies to white children, whose skin color is treated as a default in this country. For children of color, race is something they must always be conscious of, from the moment they are born. It affects everything, from the way they are perceived to the ways they are expected to behave. Racism has always been heavily associated with social merit in the U.S. We should not have to tiptoe around this fact for the sake of those who have never before had to consider these issues. By projecting a view of history tainted with white-centric bias, we are perpetuating a status quo that has repeatedly silenced marginalized voices. If we hope to move forward as a country and make real strides towards a more equitable society, discussion of institutional racism’s existence and effects is a necessity. To be silent is to be complicit. To be an agent of change is to be informed.
Samantha Cynn is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.