Shortly after taking office, Glenn Youngkin, the new Virginia governor, issued an executive order “on Day One to end the use of inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory” in K-12 public education. EO-1—ENDING-THE-USE-OF-INHERENTLY-DIVISIVE-CONCEPTS,-INCLUDING-CRITICAL-RACE-THEORY,-AND-RESTORING-EXCELLE[13856].pdf. (If on April 1, 2023, Youngkin signs another executive order, will it say that it was issued on Day Four-Hundred-Seventeen?) (Have you noticed how frequently politicians’ signatures are unreadable? Is that so that there can be plausible deniability later if they want to disown whatever they signed? Or maybe they really had wanted to be doctors? Or is it because their K-12 education did not reward good penmanship?)

As is frequent in such orders, the issuer first stated why the order is necessary and follows up with how the goals are to be accomplished. It seems almost impossible for politicians to escape platitudes in this portion of an executive order. In this one, for example: “Political indoctrination has no place in our classroom.” Our kids should not “be told what to think. Instead, the foundation of our education system should be built on teaching our students how to think for themselves. . . .We must equip our teachers to teach our students the entirety of our history—both good and bad.” Who could disagree?

A closer reading of this section headed “Importance of the Initiative,” however, raises questions about the order itself and the writing and thinking ability of its drafters and signer. The order says that “we must enable our students to take risks, to think differently, to imagine, and to see conversations regarding art, science, and history as a place where they have a voice.” How does the governor want students to think differently? Think differently from whom? From what? How does banning IDCs (inherently divisive concepts) accomplish this? In addition, the governor wants to enable students to imagine. Virginia kids now don’t have an imagination? That apparently makes them different from all children elsewhere, so perhaps Virginian small fry must be enabled to think differently.

The order seeks to improve the knowledge and thinking ability of Virginia students, but the order should make people wonder about how well its drafters and signer were educated. Should we take seriously pronouncements about education from someone who writes the phrase “to see conversations”? And doesn’t banning IDCs limit the ability of students to explore–think differently about–upsetting or inherently divisive concepts?

The order states what should be another platitude: “We must equip our teachers to teach our students the entirety of our history – both good and bad.” Okay. But it continues: “From the horrors of slavery, . . . [to] our country’s defeat of the Soviet Union and the ills of Communism, we must provide our students with facts and context necessary to understand these important events.” If Virginia schools teach such poor sentence construction, more than the mere banning of Critical Race Theory is needed for a good public education there. And I doubt the governor’s commitment to historical accuracy when he writes of our “defeat” of the Soviet Union.

Moreover, the clause states that schools should teach about “our country’s defeat of the Soviet Union and the ills of Communism.” Don’t the ills of Communism still exist even if the Soviet Union does not? Perhaps the goal is to teach about the ills of communism, but that is not what the order says, and, besides, it would conflict with the portion of the order that intones that political indoctrination has no place in Virginia’s classrooms and that students should not be told what to think. I doubt that Youngkin wants teachers to teach about the ills and shortcomings of capitalism; apparently, he would rather just indoctrinate them about the ills of communism.

The preamble concludes with sentences that are at best non sequiturs: the Virginia Constitution, it says, “provides a right to be free from any governmental discrimination upon the basis of religious conviction, race, color, sex, or national origin. Critical race theory and related concepts are teaching our children to engage in the very behavior the Constitution prohibits.” Did you follow that? The Virginia Constitution prohibits governmental discrimination. CRT teaches students to governmentally discriminate. Really? How does it do that? If that second assertion can, against all odds, make sense, surely there must be some intervening sentences to get there. As presented, the paragraph is gobbledygook. But it is presented by those who are going “to ensure excellence in K-12 public education” in Virginia.

Perhaps the sloppy thinking and writing in the “Importance of the Initiative” doesn’t matter much because it is the “Directive” portion of the executive order that contains the legally operative language. The thirteen numbered paragraphs make it clear that the Virginia governor is taking a strong stand against “inherently divisive concepts, including concepts or ideas related to Critical Race Theory.” They are to be rooted out of Department of Education policies and removed from DOE’s guidelines, websites, best practices, and training materials. Furthermore, the Superintendent of Public Instruction shall keep on the lookout for further executive or legislative actions that might be “needed to end use of all inherently divisive concepts in public education.”

Virginians can be proud that public school kids will no longer be polluted with these pernicious policies, or at least they will be kept safe once these offensive ideas can be identified. Good luck with that. The executive order does not even attempt a definition of Critical Race Theory, much less the “related concepts” associated with it.

(continued January 24)

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