Comment: After jokes end, Virginia education still threatened

Its governor’s teacher ‘tip line’ will chill teachers and may cause good educators to leave the state.

By Theresa Vargas / The Washington Post

Even singer John Legend got involved.

After Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who banned critical race theory from public education, revealed on Monday that his administration had created an email tip line for parents to report “divisive practices in their schools,” people started drafting emails. They just weren’t the type of emails the Republican governor had called for.

These emails aimed to sabotage his tell-on-a-teacher tip line.

They were filled with humor and outrage, and they came in response to requests from Virginians and non-Virginians, from the relatively unknown and the well-known, from people with small social media followings and people with enviable ones.

Legend, who has 13.8 million Twitter followers, tweeted: “Black parents need to flood these tip lines with complaints about our history being silenced. We are parents too.”

University of Virginia political analyst Larry J. Sabato took that ask further. He tweeted: “Parents of ALL races should flood Youngkin’s tip line.”

Attorney Qasim Rashid told people what “NOT” to do and then shared the creative ways they were doing it.

“GOP VA Governor just set up a tip line to report schools & teachers who teach about racism,” he tweeted. “Whatever you do, don’t make a mockery of this with fake tips. That would be a terrible thing to do. RT so everyone knows NOT to send fake tips.”

He then followed that up by highlighting some of the emails that had been sent:

“I have heard reports that schools in Virginia are teaching ARABIC NUMERALS!!! I fear that we’ve become so focused on exposing Critical Race Theory in public education that we’ve forgotten all about creeping Sharia Law. Please address this matter immediately.”

“Albus Dumbledor was teaching that full blooded wizards discriminated against Mudbloods! Fire him immediately!”

“My teenage son came home from school and told me his teachers are attempting to teach him! I’m outraged and find this completely unacceptable. Who do these teachers think they are? … This madness must stop!”

Many of the emails people reported sending to helpeducation@governor.virginia.gov took on that same humorous tone. I saw at least one person mention they planned to send an email about a teacher talking about Bruno, even though anyone who has watched the movie “Encanto” knows we’re not supposed to do that.

For the past few days, as a result of the tip line drawing the attention of popular TikTokers and national media outlets, people across the country have been looking at Virginia. But soon they will turn away and the laughter will stop, and when that happens, Virginians will still be left with a concerning situation: Their governor wants students and parents to tell on teachers.

Teachers who have been showing up to work during a pandemic while risking the well-being of their own families.

Teachers who don’t get paid enough for what they have to do each day; impart lessons, calm conflicts and provide emotional support to students.

Teachers who have the skills and the ability to say at any time, “I’m done, I quit.”

Youngkin has called for pay hikes for teachers, but even so, his creation of the tip line has raised serious concerns that the state could lose quality educators. That’s a real possibility, and one that stands to hurt many children, including mine who attend a Northern Virginia public elementary school.

We’re supposed to be supporting educators, not watching and waiting to pounce on them. And make no mistake, the tip line was not just created to gather information.

During an interview with conservative radio host John Fredericks on Monday, Youngkin mentioned the email address and described it as a place for parents to report “where they feel that their fundamental rights are being violated, where their children are not being respected, where there are inherently divisive practices in their schools.”

But he didn’t stop there. He spoke of what would come of those complaints.

“We’re going to make sure we catalog it all,” he said. “… And that gives us further, further ability to make sure we’re rooting it out.”

As experts have explained repeatedly, critical race theory is not taught to K-12 students. It is a college-level academic concept that addresses how racism has shaped public policy and the legal system. But when CRT is defined more broadly, as Youngkin and other lawmakers have chosen to do, the picture grows blurrier.

“Inherently divisive concepts, like Critical Race Theory and its progeny, instruct students to only view life through the lens of race and presumes that some students are consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist or oppressive, and that other students are victims,” reads his executive order that bans its teaching.

What that means in schools is unclear. I recently wrote about a Virginia high school student who found a way to get more women of color into history lessons. While working alongside educators, she wrote mini books about Native American women for young readers and researched the roles of Black women during the Civil War to add to the materials made available for sixth-grade history lessons. Will the CRT ban keep that work from reaching other students? The answer should be a resounding no. But when teachers have to worry about being reported by students for their lesson plans the answer is at best uncertain.

Having children learn about racism does not create rooms full of oppressors and victims; it creates less of both in society. But regardless of whether you agree with that, there is no blurriness when it comes to this: Asking students to police teachers will not improve education. It will only create distrust within the schools at an already strained time and make teachers feel intimidated instead of appreciated.

On Wednesday, on several social media sites for Virginia parents, there appeared a call to action that strayed from jokes and fake tips. It asked people to send emails to the tip line giving honest answers to the following questions:

Who was your favorite teacher and what did they teach?

What teacher had the most positive impact on your life?

What does your child like about their current teacher?

Theresa Vargas is a local columnist for The Washington Post. Before coming to The Post, she worked at Newsday in New York. She has degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University School of Journalism.

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