Ishaan Nandwani, Opinions Editor
Following his inauguration as Governor of Virginia on Jan. 15, Gov. Glenn Youngkin immediately signed 11 executive actions into law.
These actions include ending the use of the Critical Race Theory in K-12 public education, allowing parents the decision of whether their children wear masks in public schools and rescinding the vaccine mandate for state employees.
Since the U.S. shutdown due the pandemic in March 2020 and the racial reckoning that followed a few months later, issues of mask and vaccine mandates and race-based education in schools have been under major contention and debate.
The Critical Race Theory (CRT), in particular, has long been under assault from conservatives clueless to its actual meaning or intent.
First of all, several sources including the Brookings Institution, the California School Board Association and the Association of American Educators have shown that CRT is not taught in K-12 public schools to begin with, and is predominantly explored at the university level on an elective basis. The Association of American Educators reported 96.9% of educators surveyed were not mandated to teach CRT. This begs the question: what is really under attack?
The answer: to avoid discussing race. The real backlash we’re seeing is the deluded belief that the education system brainwashes students into a liberal agenda from a young age, fostering white guilt and self-hatred.
Indeed, conservatives have donned the idea that even discussions about the existence of privilege or systemic racism have no place in education. Last year in Loudoun County, right-wing parents pushed to eliminate school board members just for requiring implicit bias training. If that’s not absurd, I don’t know what is.
There’s a difference between discussing race and political indoctrination. Youngkin claims that the way race is taught in schools — perpetuated by CRT — prevents students from developing free will and encourages them to believe that certain bodies are inherently racist while others are inherently oppressed.
But that’s not what is happening at all. In addition to the view that race is a social construct, CRT is a legal framework that encourages a deep exploration of systemic racism and the structures and institutions that perpetuate it, seeking to unearth how discrimination and racism might occur in latent ways. This idea coupled with the fact that CRT is not embraced at the primary school level proves that Youngkin’s attacks on how race is approached in schools are baseless and unfounded.
Personally, I fervently believe that all young people should be free to form their own opinions and should never have anyone’s political beliefs forced upon them, nor should they feel ashamed of who they are. But Youngkin calling the state of the education system today “divisive” because race is a part of the curriculum is dangerous and ironically, is divisive in itself — it creates a stigma surrounding discussions about race in the first place.
Having the hard conversations about race is not always easy, but is essential. For example, students of all backgrounds need to know that of all groups, Black men bear the highest risk of being killed by the police in their lifetime, two times more likely than men of other races, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Sciences of the United States of America.
These statistics should be presented in an objective manner, and students should be encouraged to learn about their identity and analyze the statistics for themselves. Their racial identity and background weaves together the essence of who they are — we can’t avoid or stigmatize talking about that. Youngkin’s attack on CRT further divides us and prevents us from having these important conversations.
On the other front, Youngkin’s new policies surrounding COVID-19 further put students and their family members at risk.
I understand how frustrating the pandemic is, and how difficult it has been on both educators and students. But we can’t turn a blind eye to what’s happening in the world. Cases are exponentially increasing with the Omicron variant. People are still dying every single day.
In his action to eliminate the mandate on masks in elementary schools, Youngkin states that the decision of a child to wear a mask should fall to the parent for reasons including that they cause “discomfort” and “children wear masks incorrectly.”
Well, I have news for you, Youngkin. I have many cousins in elementary school, and I’ve interacted with them for extended periods of time while they were wearing masks. They didn’t show any inability to wear a mask (actually, they were often better about it than the adults in my family). It’s not rocket science, and any slight discomfort that stems from mask wearing is a small price to pay for the protection of our community.
Luckily, many Virginia school districts including Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax have already taken a firm stand against this policy, and still require all students to wear masks in classrooms. Other school districts should follow the example set by these Northern Virginia schools.
I’m also shocked by Youngkin’s decision to make vaccines optional for state employees. Employees of the state should set an example for the rest of Virginians and are often in heavy contact with others. If there was ever a time to get vaccinated, it’s now. I’m all for free will, but with more and more people dying every day, the last thing our state needs is a governor who deemphasizes the importance of critical COVID-19 precautions.
In short, Youngkin’s first few days in office have been, well, disappointing. I’m not optimistic that things will get better for the remainder of his term, but for the sake of our state, they must.