Screen Shot from Anti-Racism 101, a Virginia Department of Education Video.

It’s hard to turn on the news today and not find a story about Critical Race Theory in our schools. Many have written extensively about the application of this rubric to public education.

Where did this newfound ‘wokeness’ originate? Did local school boards suddenly have some sort of racial epiphany, and en masse decide to begin re-working their cultures?

Of course not. While schools in Virginia remain nominally under local control, the Virginia Department of Education is charged with setting standards for the entire Commonwealth. Richmond calls the tune, and locals have to dance.

And in Virginia, it started when Ralph Northam decided he didn’t want to go down in history as the governor in a Klan hood or blackface.

How it Started

The first real hints of the “equity” shift appeared in February 2019, in the days following Ralph Northam’s infamous “moonwalking” press conference. Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane sent out a memo listing resources to “support student and community dialogues on racism,” aka Memo #050-19.

“My office will be sending an email to superintendents with additional details about our previously planned #EdEquityVA webinar series in the near future. The webinar series is designed to deploy resources, facilitate discourse, and share strategies that promote and advance equity outcomes for all Virginia Students.”

Lane included a helpful reading list, including:

White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
Antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility. Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence.

Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education, by Edward Taylor, David Gillborn, and Gloria Ladson-Billings
The emergence of Critical Race Theory (CRT) marked an important point in the history of racial politics in the legal academy and the broader conversation about race and racism in the United States. More recently, CRT has proven an important analytic tool in the field of education, offering critical perspectives on race, and the causes, consequences and manifestations of race, racism, inequity, and the dynamics of power and privilege in schooling.

Ralph Takes Note

In April, Governor Northam and Secretary of Education Atif Qarni announced Virginia is For Learners, a web portal that would highlight their efforts to transform Virginia’s education system.

Much of the announcement consists of standard education reform fare: improvements to standards, more education earlier for more children, and the like. But woven through the document are references to equity — including bringing equity measures into accreditation for schools.

The last point, labeled “Maximizing the Potential of All Students” gives the first real hints of what Northam’s team had in store (emphasis added):

“Education is our most effective tool to reduce poverty, address racism, and sustain economic advancement for all Virginians. The Commonwealth is committed to ensuring that students and families in Virginia, regardless of their race, economic status, or the languages they speak at home, feel welcomed in their schools. The Virginia Department of Education will continue to focus on the changing needs of its diverse student population, recognizing that significant achievement gaps currently exist. Our commitment is to ensure that the Commonwealth’s public education system is positioned to achieve equitable academic outcomes for all students.”

Under Qarni’s guidance, the Department of Education picked up the ball and ran with it, building out what would become the #EdEquity roadmap, a document that in its preface gives away the whole game.

“But for far too long, students in our communities of color and especially African-American students have faced systemic racism in our public schools.”

The document thanks many “thought leaders” for their influence on the project, including Ibram X. Kendi, the well known author of “How to be Anti-Racist.”

What is anti-racism? A belief that there is no such thing as a person who is not racist. All are either racist, or anti-racist. Anti-racists accept that there is pervasive, structural, and systemic racism in the United States, separate from individual actions and beliefs. To be anti-racist, one must be perpetually aware of race and their own interactions with it.

Critical Race Theory shares the same view of institutions — that they are inherently flawed, and America itself is irredeemably racist. “Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education” remains posted on the Department of Education website as suggested reading re: #EdEquity.

The checklists at the back of the document are telling. For example, the Anti-Racism checklist begins with this item:

“Anti-racism acknowledges that racist beliefs and structures are pervasive in all aspects of our lives and requires action to dismantle those beliefs and structures. This requires that school leaders hold educators and students accountable when they say and do things that make school unsafe, and that they dismantle systems perpetuating inequitable access to opportunity and outcomes for students historically marginalized by race.”

#EdEquity Hits Its Stride

From there, the #EdEquity initiative took on a life of its own, with webinars, documents, and more. The Department of Education helpfully published their webinars on YouTube, including these on Anti-Racism 101, and Becoming an Anti-racist Education Leader, in which presenters talk about “Interrogating Whiteness” and the fact that the U.S. was “founded on white supremacy.”

“White Fragility” plays a large part in the rubric. If white people say they’re not racist, they’re simply denying the truth because of their inherent racism. And if they’re offended by the charge of racism, it’s simply more proof of their racist attitudes. Kafka could do no better.

Governor Northam himself appeared via Zoom at the 2020 Virtual #EdEquity Summit and talked about the need for “building anti-racist school communities.”

The 2021 Summitt, concluded this week, featured Dr. Wendi Manuel-Scott, who teaches “Critical Race Studies” at George Mason University, which “Draws on theoretical frameworks including critical race theory and intersectionality theory to examine the structural roots of racism.”

Other speakers included Dr. Khalifa Muhammad, and Dr Ghouldy Mohammed, both of whom research and publish on Critical Race Theory.

Conclusion

In conclusion, what we see today in across Virginia isn’t a local initiative, but the end result of a deliberate result of a top-down push to make our schools more “woke.”

Because Ralph Northam didn’t want to be known as the racist governor in the Klan hood.