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TOLLIVER: Here’s a tip — divisive concepts are not what’s threatening Virginia’s schools

Gov. Youngkin’s obsession with division is only causing more division and ignoring real problems in Virginia’s public schools.

<p>So, it is no surprise with this track record that Youngkin orchestrated a poorly-organized and ineffective witch hunt against Virginia public schools and their teachers through his tip line.&nbsp;</p>

So, it is no surprise with this track record that Youngkin orchestrated a poorly-organized and ineffective witch hunt against Virginia public schools and their teachers through his tip line. 

Since the beginning of his term, Governor Glenn Youngkin has been spouting divisive rhetoric — ironically, about “divisive” rhetoric. This has come to a laughable end. Announced in late January, Youngkin’s administration initiated a tip line to connect parents to his office in an attempt to survey the education of our Virginian children to ensure it did not violate his recent policies, specifically his mask mandate opt-out. However, he soon encouraged it to be used to also report “divisive” content in curriculum. An unfettered tip line open to all parents, students and Virginians alike — what could go wrong? Unsurprisingly, quite a lot. Youngkin’s tip line is not only ridiculous, but his arbitrary idea of “divisive concepts” makes it dangerous as well. A tip line designed to stop Critical Race Theory and LGBTQ+ rhetoric in schools welcomes division rather than warding it off. What’s more, Youngkin’s emphasis on the imaginary problems of division leaves real problems in schools — like disabled student accommodations and education quality — on hold.

Youngkin came in swinging. As I have written before, he won the election by causing panic to parents with trigger words like “critical race theory” and “divisive concepts,” language borrowed from his supporter, former president Donald Trump. Youngkin’s idea of disruption, however, did not stop there. He recently reversed former governor Ralph Northam’s gender identity policies, revoking students’ rights to use their preferred pronouns, bathrooms and sports teams without parental consent. The policy violates transgender students’ rights, taking away their autonomy in the name of parental empowerment

So, it is no surprise with this track record that Youngkin orchestrated a poorly-organized and ineffective witch hunt against Virginia public schools and their teachers through his tip line. The tip line was immediately met with backlash and it ultimately backfired. People mocked the tip line, flooding the tip line with fake tips and actually praising teachers rather than ousting them as Critical Race Theory witches. As of November 2, the tip line has been shut down.

While not inherently a bad idea, a tip line is far too unorganized to be a helpful way for parents’ concerns about education to be heard — especially by making it state-wide instead of district-run. The idea of creating a tip line specifically to report teachers based on the imaginary critical race theory curriculum in our public schools or to further derail LGBTQ+ representation is not just unhelpful, though — it’s harmful to our progress. 

Clearly, the very nature of Youngkin’s tip line proved to be very arbitrary. I have no idea how Youngkin thought that an unsupervised tip line would stay focused on the task at hand, but such was the expectation. One comment complained that a teacher was trying to convince the class that certain books were sexist — it almost sounds as though the teacher is teaching an interpretive subject like English and took a stance on it. There also seems to be utter confusion about the purpose of the tipline as one comment encouraged offering advanced math classes for certain grade levels so students could excel beyond the requirements. The latter complaint is a topic that should be presented to school boards, but instead, Gov. Youngkin is on the hunt for eliminating Critical Race Theory, not improving Standards of Learning test scores. This further confuses parents on how to express valid concerns on students’ education.

Complaints like the last one exemplify my point. More important matters dominating the tip line may be ignored in favor of tips that actually complain about “divisive” curriculum. It was not created to spotlight more harrowing concerns in Virginia’s public school systems, and I wonder if these complaints will even be addressed by Youngkin’s administration. For instance, several comments were left concerning students with disabilities not receiving the accommodations that they need in school. Youngkin, I know that’s not exactly critical race theory, but do you think it’s important enough to work on?

In all seriousness though, the tip line did show that Youngkin’s concerns are not that of the parents. While outlined as a way to stop critical race theory or “oversexualized” content in schools — a code word for LGBTQ+ representation — some of the emails complained about mask mandates and remote instruction. Others brought forth topics of curriculum and course placement.

Real problems in Virginia’s schools, such as remote learning and the quality of education, should be the real focus for Virginia’s policies, not erasing trans students or white-washing history. Perhaps we should focus on the concerning retention rates of teachers in Virginia, the even less appreciative average pay in the state or the fact that standardized testing is not only reliant on harmful information, but ineffective for testing understanding. We should focus on the fact that Virginia public schools still have zero tolerance policies for minor offenses, or that Virginia does not have universal free school meals, despite stark poverty and income disparities.

Here’s a tip, Youngkin. Your policies are disappointing and even those parents who did vote for you are fed up. Virginia’s students deserve better. But until the next election rolls around, please try to do your best, because this is not it.

Shaleah Tolliver is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.

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