University faculty analyze Youngkin’s executive order banning critical race theory

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order banning the teaching of critical race theory and concepts like it in public education. CT File Photo

Katrina Lee, News Editor

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed 11 executive actions on his first day in office on Jan. 15, the first of which ended “the use of inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory and restoring excellence in K-12 public education in the Commonwealth,” according to the executive order. 

VCU professor of African American studies Adam Ewing said critical race theory is trying to investigate the history and the current “manifestations” of race.

“Critical race theory is just a way to try to understand the world. It is very important to take note when people take an idea or a set of tools and they turn it into a boogeyman,” Ewing said. “Why does the idea of investigation and knowledge production seem so scary?”

The order was one of Gov. Youngkin’s promises for his “Day One Game Plan,” which was part of his platform throughout his campaign for governor, according to his campaign website

“We’re going to press forward with a curriculum that includes listening to parents’ input, a curriculum that allows our children to run as fast as they can, teaching them how to think, enabling their dreams to soar. Friends, we are going to reestablish excellence in our schools.” Youngkin said in his election night address.

Critical race theory is a framework of legal analysis that explains race as a “culturally invented” categorization utilized to oppress people of color, according to Encyclopedia Britannica

Critical race theory is not in the Virginia Department of Education’s curriculum, according to PolitiFact, as of Nov. 2021. 

“Critical Race Theory and its progeny, instruct students to only view life through the lens of race and presume that some students are consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist, or oppressive, and that other students are victims,” the order states.

The executive order’s rationale stated the teaching of critical race theory and concepts like it constitutes as political indoctrination in schools.  

Political indoctrination involves persuading people to believe certain ideas, values, and ideologies related to politics and governance, according to Sage Knowledge. 

Professor Ewing said that the executive order’s use of the term political indoctrination to describe critical race theory is contradictory.

“It’s interesting that it is being framed as political indoctrination. It’s a very Orwellian idea that you would invoke political indoctrination about people trying to learn something about their society as a way of restricting access to knowledge, which of course is the very definition of political indoctrination,” Ewing said. 

Critical race theory is a body of critical scholarship that grew out of the legal field and is a tool that has been expanded to interrogate how racism operates within society, Ewing said. 

“The idea that critical race theory is being described as political indoctrination suggests that the thing is indoctrination is the assertion that racism is a structuring force in our society,” Ewing said. “I think it speaks to the broader purpose of these initiatives, which is essentially to deny racism as a serious problem in American life.” 

In late January, the governor’s office established an “email tip line” for parents to report suspected cases of  “critical race theory” and “divisive practices” being taught in Virginia schools, according to NBC12.

In accordance with the governor’s stance on critical race theory, a Cornell Law School professor launched a website in opposition to critical race theory being taught in schools. The site claims that around 200 universities and colleges teach critical race theory, including VCU.   

“The very premise of the exercise of trying to find teaching of critical race theory and using it as proof of what? That VCU is doing something sinister?” Ewing said. “The Governor uses the term ‘political indoctrination’ and I think that really needs to be unpacked.” 

 Ewing said he never thought he would see balant “active suppression” of education. 

“To be clear, I am absolutely furious about this executive order. I think it is very dangerous,” Ewing said.

VCU political science professor Amanda Wintersieck said that even though it is within the rights of the governor to release an order like this, she expects there will be future lawsuits against this order. 

“I fully expect we will probably see some legal action as it relates to this. There are some parts to this particular executive order where they bring attention to the civil rights act, specifically title four and title six,” Wintersieck said. “The way that they are using this is to ban quote on quote reverse racism and that is very questionable intent.”

Wintersieck said while critical race theory has only ever been taught at the higher levels of education, not in K-12 public schools in Virginia, she said she had a particular issue with the wording of the executive order.

“It [the executive order] says banning critical race theory and its progeny, so this means anything that stems from critical race theory,” Wintersieck said. “They are attempting to limit conversations about structural inequality in our systems, that’s not critical race theory, that’s just discussions about how the world works.” 

Wintersieck said that she believes not having conversations like concepts about critical race theory is holding back progress towards democracy and fails to address structural inequalities.

“Those structural inequalities are linked to the fact that white Americans as a whole exist in positions of power and have sought to maintain those positions of power,” Wintersieck said. “From this has naturally flowed power imbalances, as well as wealth inequality imbalances and a number of problems across the board. It’s really unfortunate that we seek to limit our children’s understanding of these biases.” 

Managing Editor Grace McOmber contributed to this report.

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