In case you missed it, Virginia’s new governor, Glenn Youngkin, has set up a “tip line” for people to snitch on teachers who supposedly are promoting “divisive practices” and to report on violations of his order against mask mandates.
According to a recent report by PEN America, between January and September 2021, 24 legislatures across the United States introduced 54 separate bills intended to restrict teaching and training in K-12 schools, higher education, and state agencies and institutions — and at least 11 passed. This doesn’t include executive orders like the one issued by Youngkin.
It’s all part of a conservative backlash against racial equity efforts in schools — or, rather, it’s the latest conservative backlash against racial equity efforts in schools, as we’ve seen this dynamic over decades whenever systemic racism becomes a topic of national discussion, as it did after the New York Times published its 1619 Project in 2019 that reframed the history of the country and when the racial justice movement grew in response to the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a police officer in Minneapolis.
Virginia isn’t original with the teacher tip line idea but is joining a small but growing group of state leaders and legislators who think encouraging citizens to turn on each other is a useful idea in a democracy.
For example, in November, the New Hampshire Department of Education set up a website that allows parents to report violations of the state’s 2021 anti-discrimination law, one of a number that use vague language in an attempt to bar teachers from exploring systemic racism with students.
Incidentally, it was also in New Hampshire where a chapter of a right-wing group called Moms for Liberty offered a $500 bounty in December that would go to the person who makes the first confirmed report against a teacher. The group explained, in responses to queries on Twitter, where it first made its bounty offer, that it would pay up through PayPal. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) denounced the offer.
Other Republican state leaders have encouraged citizens to report on others; in Texas, for example, a 2021 law that essentially bans abortions includes a provision allowing any citizen to sue anyone supposedly involved in a violation of that law.
After the Supreme Court in December ruled that the quasi-vigilante provision could stand, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) threatened to use the same tactic to implement gun-control laws. Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Republican legislators in Oklahoma have said they are pushing bills that will allow citizens to sue teachers for bringing critical race theory into classrooms — though there is no evidence it has been.
It is worth noting that my Post colleague Dana Milbank just published a column noting that Youngkin didn’t mind sending his own children to private schools that taught about systemic racism but, somehow, doesn’t want public schools to do that.
Wrote Milbank: “The state’s deputizing of residents to act as informants will have the obvious effect of deterring even mentions of slavery or race, which means Youngkin has imposed a de facto ‘memory law’ whitewashing Virginia’s, and the country’s, deep and ongoing history of white supremacy.”
In the piece below, veteran educator Peter Greene pens a response to Youngkin and his tip line. Greene taught English for decades in a small town in Pennsylvania and writes the always lively Curmudgucation blog, on which this first appeared. He gave me permission to publish this.
By Peter Greene
Figuring that pitting parents against schools had won him an election, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has made good on his pledge to attack public education and the teachers who work there.
He started right in with an edict that schools should not teach anything “inherently divisive,” one more anti-critical race theory law so fuzzy, subjective, and poorly conceived that it will chill teaching of any subjects that anybody might object to. The text is spectacularly vague, and though it contains a list of some “divisive concepts” that are specifically naughty, its reliance on that “divisive concept” language guarantees that schools across the state will have no clear idea what exactly is forbidden.
Administrators not in the mood for a fight will simply instruct teachers not to talk about race, gender, or pretty much anything that might upset anybody. Is evolution divisive? History of the Civil War (particularly in Virginia)? My students were pretty divided on whether Lady Macbeth is a redeemable character or not. In fact, we used to stage debates, but I suppose those are inherently divisive, too.
To insure that the decree carries maximum power to intimidate and silence teachers, the governor has followed the lead of states like Texas and Florida and instituted a means for parents and community members to turn in any teachers for being naughty. As Youngkin explained in one interview:
For parents to send us any instances 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. We’re asking for input right from parents to make sure we can go right to the source as we continue to work to make sure that Virginia’s education system is on the path to reestablish excellence.
James Fedderman, head of the Virginia Education Association called the tip line “poorly conceived” and “designed to intimidate educators simply trying to do their jobs,” which sounds about right.
But of course you know what happened next. The tip line has apparently been hit with a variety of reports, such as a complaint that Hogwarts head master Albus Dumbledore “was teaching that full-blooded wizards discriminated against mudbloods.”
Some of this has been fueled on Twitter by folks such as human rights lawyer Qasim Rasgid, who tweeted: “GOP VA Governor just set up a tip line to report schools & teachers who teach about racism. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 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.”
And John Legend correctly pointed out that under the guidelines of the decree, Black parents could legitimately complain about Black history being silenced (because, as sometimes escapes the notice of anti-CRT warriors, some parents are Black). Ditto for LGBTQ parents.
Also, this has been floating on Facebook:
Anyone can send their reports to the tip line email: email@example.com
Which is of course only for serious, meaningful, and real complaints about divisive concepts, and not fake racism tips or other things. Only the kind of serious comments that such a state-sponsored attempt to intimidate and silence teachers deserves.