Yes, Virginia, There Are Lessons We Have Learned

As a former educator, I know a teachable moment when I see one. And the political doings in Virginia this fall have been a goldmine. While the Democrats still maintain a small majority in the Old Dominion’s Senate in the recent election, Virginia is now a red state with a Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, as well as a Republican attorney general, lieutenant governor, and House of Delegates. 

How did this come about?

First, there was former governor and now former candidate Terry McAuliffe insisting that teaching critical race theory is nonexistent in Virginia. He told a reporter, “It’s not taught in Virginia, it’s never been taught in Virginia. And as I’ve said this a lot: It’s a dog whistle. It’s racial, it’s division, and it’s used by Glenn Youngkin and other—this is the same thing with Trump and the border wall—to divide people.” 

Against this claim was the fact that the divisive CRT has been taught openly all over his state, and this made McAuliffe appear to be very out of touch, or a liar.

On the subject of lying, the Friday before Election Day, a group of five “white supremacists” appeared in support of Youngkin outside his campaign bus in Charlottesville. The group, however, was actually composed of Democratic Party activists organized by the Lincoln Project, a left-wing PAC purporting to “protect democracy.” The stunt was not only dishonest but quite stupid as well. Their faces were well known all over the state, and one of the faux white supremacists was an African American.  

Additionally, McAuliffe’s life-long personal avoidance of public schools is well documented. As a youngster he went to private schools for his entire school career. He then sent his own kids to very tony private academies. Knowing that, one might think he’d have some sympathy for parents who can’t afford to send their children to a private school, and are forced to send them to the inferior government-run variety. But during a debate with Youngkin, he averred, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” And as a coda, “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision.” 

At least McAuliffe should get credit for being consistent. As governor in 2016, he vetoed a bill that would have allowed parents to block their children from reading books in school that contain sexually explicit material. All in all, really bad optics.

Another teachable moment was allowing teacher union boss Randi Weingarten to play a prominent role in the McAuliffe campaign. She spoke at a rally on the final day of the campaign, and prior to that, she was cheerleading for McAuliffe. “As governor,” Weingarten claimed, “he had a demonstrated track record of listening to the people he represents, engaging directly with parents and teachers.” She also asserted: “He made sure parents and teachers were heard, and he worked with them to curb high-stakes standardized testing. I know he’ll do the same when elected again.” Wrong. Parents may have been seen by McAuliffe, but to be sure, they weren’t heard. Having Weingarten speak at an important rally showed people where McAuliffe’s sympathies lie: with unions, not children.

What all this means is that Republicans have found a strong issue they can rally behind. In an exit poll, 84 percent of Virginians said that parents should have a lot or some say in what schools teach, while only 13 percent said little or none. This is especially bad news for Democrats, as a recent report from the Institute for Family Studies finds that 61 percent of voters ages 18-55 who identify as Republicans are parents, but just 45 percent of Democrats in that age cohort have children.

Other voting patterns in Virginia bode well for Republicans. There was a 13 percentage point swing towards the GOP among white women, fueled by a 37 point shift among white women who didn’t go to college, according to an NBC exit poll.

Another major shift showed Youngkin cutting into Democrats’ margins in the vast Virginia suburbs, which swung 15 points in Republicans’ favor.

Getting desperate, the corporate left-wing media keeps banging a worn-out drum. An MSNBC article after the election insisted that a “contingent of angry, willfully ignorant white people was the key ingredient needed to elect a GOP governor in Virginia for the first time since 2009.” Yet the writer completely ignores the fact that these purportedly “ignorant white people” also elected Republican Winsome Sears—the commonwealth’s first black woman ever to win a  statewide office—as lieutenant governor. They also voted in Jason Miyares, a Latino Republican, as attorney general. Additionally, a Fox News exit poll revealed that Youngkin garnered more support from Hispanic voters than McAuliffe by a 55 percent to 44 percent margin.

Perhaps none of this should come as a surprise. Republican Ron DeSantis owed his 2018 victory in the Florida gubernatorial election to about 100,000 black women who unexpectedly chose him over the black Democratic candidate, Andrew Gillum; DeSantis’ strong support for parental choice in education was the deciding factor.  

In October, Kamala Harris told Democratic voters in Virginia, which elected Joe Biden by a 10-point margin, that the outcome of the governor’s race is a “bellwether” with big implications for next year’s midterms. And on MSNBC, the day after the election, former Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter sounded alarm bells, stating, “The one thing that we need to make sure that Republicans in 2022 don’t become is the party of parents. Because we need to be the party of parents.”

Nationally, there are oh-so-many issues that can swing elections—our leaky borders, the unstable economy, inflation, stagflation, China, Afghanistan, the supply chain, etc.—to which we can now add the role of parents in education. 

The culture wars are real, and many parents feel displaced and are determined to fight back. Whether the issue is the radical sexual agenda in children’s schools, “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” COVID-related school shutdowns, or vaccine mandates, Virginia has taught us that parents are now a force to be reckoned with. It’s about time.

About Larry Sand

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network—a nonpartisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

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