The politicization of education
VIRGINIA DEMOCRATIC gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe and his Republican rival Glenn Youngkin were neck-and-neck in a dead heat with five days left of the gubernatorial election last November 3. On Election Day, Youngkin won 50.9 to McAuliffe’s 48.4. What the heck happened?
It all began on September 29 when McAuliffe said during a debate, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Whoa! What did he say? Yes, he said that and it turned out to be A 50-pound sinker that sunk his campaign into the murky depths of politics. Game over. Kaput!
And his Republican rival, who had avoided controversial subjects, quickly took notice of McAuliffe’s gaff and used the controversial line in campaign ads… and gee… it was so effective that it put McAuliffe on the defensive, never to recover again. And once CNN had projected Youngkin to win, he went on stage and in a Trump-like act – clapping his hands and pointing his fingers at the crowd – he buoyantly cheered the audience.
Youngkin’s victory shook the Democratic Party so badly that it unleashed a tsunami from Democratic leaders in Washington DC. They vented their angst – nay, anger – at two maverick Democratic senators – Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — whom they blamed for their failure to pass the $1.75-trillion social safety net or Build Back Better proposal, which caused the legislators to be wary over a proposal to create a “billionaires tax.” Hey! What’s 15% of roughly 200 companies with more than $1 billion in profits? That’s loose change to the billionaires, right?
Had they passed the Build Back Better legislation it would have uplifted the Virginia voters who had ranked the economy as the top issue facing the commonwealth. Just imagine how Biden could have highlighted his economic agenda in bold strokes while campaigning for McAuliffe. But it never gained traction and it lost the opportunity that could have made a lot of voters happy.
But it was education policies that created a new front in a culture war as resentments over McAuliffe’s remarks, mask mandates, and anti-racism curriculum reached a boiling point. McAuliffe’s remarks had caused a strong pushback from irate parents. And they directed their frustration at McAuliffe. But while I agree with the parents’ concerns, I was shocked at the speed at how the outrage had spread like wildfire across the country to every county school board in the country. Parents – who previously did not participate in school boards — began running for school board seats to make their presence known so that they would see to it that school boards are there to educate, not to indoctrinate. However, by doing so, they run the risk of politicizing education. And that’s where the danger lies.
The school boards are no longer impartial and apolitical bodies of citizens who are driven to promote good citizenship, good education, and good behavior in the classrooms. Now, the landscape has changed dramatically. Parents are now involved in “political” stuff like race and critical race theory (CRT). They want to have a say in what is being taught to their children. And they started running for seats on the county school boards with a political agenda.
Critical Race Theory
Suddenly, parents are awakened by the politicization of school boards. School boards have become political battlegrounds between conservative-leaning parents and progressive-leaning parents. The political battles have spread out into the communities with each side of the political divide holding protests and counter protests outside the school board meetings. Some of them even bring their children to these protests, which present an unhealthy environment of infighting within the communities. And pretty soon these protests would be divided along racial lines – whites vs. blacks. It’s going to turn ugly.
One of the issues during the election in Virginia is “critical race theory.” I searched the Internet looking for the right definition. And here is what I believe that describes it: “Critical race theory is a movement that challenges the ability of conventional legal strategies to deliver social and economic justice and specifically calls for legal approaches that take into consideration race as a nexus of American life.” What exactly does that mean? Makes one wonder what the heck they are trying to teach the young schoolchildren?
I also found out that CRT courses are offered in over 20 American law schools and at least three non-American law schools. In addition to law, critical race theory is taught and applied in the fields of higher education, political science, women’s studies, ethnic studies, communication, sociology, and American studies. And nowhere did it mention that CRT is being taught in elementary schools. Simply put, CRT is too complex to teach to elementary school students. I have a problem understanding that myself! And that’s where it gets political.
In short, CRT is an academic movement, which seeks to link racism, race, and political power. Are school children ready for that? Isn’t it like teaching sex to younger schoolchildren? Are they ready for it? But oftentimes, it’s the parents themselves who can best answer that question. And if the children don’t learn it in elementary school, eventually they will learn it on their own, one way or another, in high school. I would then venture to say that CRT should not be taught in elementary schools. To do so would be treading in dangerous waters. But the Republicans have whipped up a moral panic that CRT is being rammed down the throats of schoolchildren, which is not true. They’re the ones that were instigating it.
And CRT has reached a point where it has inflamed conservatives. Towards the end of the campaign, Youngkin started using his message about the evils of “critical race theory” in schools. All of a sudden he injected the race factor, which caused the candidates’ approval ratings to go awry to the detriment of McAuliffe, who had been leading in the polls since the start of the campaign. Suffice it to say; when race is used as a wedge issue, it usually favors the whites. And it worked! It is a case of dog-whistle politics.
With what happened in the Virginia election, should we then expect that the Republicans would use CRT as a wedge issue in 2022? You betcha!
At the end of the day, while parents’ involvement in the school boards is encouraged, politicization of education must be avoided at all costs. It’s not healthy. (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)