On his first day in office, Governor Glenn Youngkin signed a series of executive orders and directives, the first two of which targeted public schools in Virginia. His first executive order bans the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. The order deems critical race theory an example of an “inherently divisive concept.” Youngkin’s second order allows parents to defy mask mandates in their respective school districts. Although the entire order relates to mask mandates and COVID-19, its official title — Reaffirming the Right of Parents in the Upbringing, Education and Care of their Children — paints a false image of its contents by quoting from the Constitution of Virginia. It disguises ignorance of the effectiveness of masks in schools, instead pretending to be about parents’ rights. From day one, Youngkin has employed deception.
I’ve already written on the recklessness that this second order exemplifies. Youngkin made his opposition to critical race theory and mask mandates central parts of his campaign. I still strongly encourage all students in public schools to wear masks, even if their school districts don’t mandate them. I also encourage students with parents who feel empowered by Youngkin’s order to defy their parents — if they can safely do so — and wear masks to school. Parents aren’t the ones who attend school. Students are. Once students are old enough to make rational decisions, their parents’ opinion does not matter when it comes to wearing masks to school.
The first order’s wording around critical race theory is particularly problematic, though, once taken in tandem with the second order. The first order asserts, “Our children deserve far better from their education than to be told what to think.” The second order then argues, “parents should have the ability to decide whether their child should wear masks.” While critical race theory and masks are different conversations, the orders nonetheless promote student autonomy in one place while denying it another. Youngkin’s first order argues that “political indoctrination has no place in our classrooms,” yet he proceeds to politicize masks. He frames them as a matter of the “rights of parents” instead of the safety of children. This likely owes to the fact that bans on mask mandates have been ruled unconstitutional. He doesn’t officially ban mandates — instead, he creates a loophole in them.
In regard to critical race theory, Youngkin’s order makes clear his administration does not actually know what it is. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Youngkin tweeted out a video in remembrance of King. However, it would seem that Youngkin actually misremembers King, whose words and cautions align with the teachings of critical race theory. For example, King called for a “radical reordering of national priorities,” sharing in critical race theory’s recognition that “radical” does not equate bad. Rather, “radical” indicates a shift away from our current, entrenched methods of learning. Youngkin proclaims to honor King, yet just two days earlier, he passed his first executive order, one that diverges from the teachings of the Civil Rights Movement leader.
The order even cites King himself — stating that he envisioned a world in which children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Youngkin used the same quote again in his tweeted video. King’s full quote, though, reveals that he was speaking about his own four children. Youngkin edits it down to feign that King spoke on the lives of every child, as though all children face the racial discrimination of Black and Brown children. Virginia’s new administration appropriates King’s words for their own gain, not entirely unlike their borrowing of the Virginian Constitution’s words to challenge masks in schools.
I support critical race theory. I believe its teachings of intersectionality force us to confront the racism that is so ingrained into our lives that many people — particularly white people — either don’t notice it or willfully deny it. That being said, little evidence exists that Virginia public schools actually teach it. Youngkin engages in fear mongering by asserting a purportedly fearsome reality that doesn’t actually exist. The order states that it’ll review EdEquityVA — a framework trying to dispel gaps in educational opportunity and achievement — for those “inherently divisive concepts.” But other than critical race theory, Youngkin names no other examples of these “concepts,” suggesting that he and his administration don’t even know how to define critical race theory and compare it to similar teachings.
The order recognizes the “horrors of American slavery” and the “heroic efforts” of Civil Rights leaders. However, it also encourages students to develop their own thoughts on “our country’s treatment of Native Americans,” the “Nazi Empire” and “the ills of Communism.” It is worth noting that the order opposes “political indoctrination” yet inculcates readers to find “ills” in Communist ideology. To be frank, these orders are all over the place. They are contradictory, and I envision little good coming of them. I sincerely hope the Youngkin administration reevaluates its early decisions and changes course.
Bryce Wyles is an Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He 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.