RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — With the swipe of a pen, Gov. Glenn Youngkin fulfilled a campaign promise to raise academic standards in the Commonwealth by first ending the use of “inherently divisive concepts,” including Critical Race Theory, in Virginia’s public schools.
The move came on Jan. 15 when Youngkin issued his first official memo: Executive Order 1. The signing of Executive Order 1 proposed a number of changes to the Commonwealth’s public education system, including a review of the Virginia Department of Education’s policies and curriculum.
But its main focus: Identifying and eliminating what the governor’s office considers “divisive” or “inherently racist concepts.”
“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,” Youngkin wrote in Executive Order 1. “This denies our students the opportunity to gain important facts, core knowledge, formulate their own opinions, and to think for themselves. Our children deserve far better from their education than to be told what to think.”
10 On Your Side investigators interviewed Youngkin about Executive Order 1. He said his goal is to ensure Virginia’s educators aren’t teaching students to judge one another.
“Our executive order that I signed was focused on divisive concepts and just to make sure that they’re not being incorporated into schools,” Youngkin said. “These are not things that people disagree over. We should not teach our children that they should be judged either to be an oppressor or to be a victim based on their race, religion, or their sex.”
10 On Your Side investigators wanted more information on the implementation of Executive Order 1, so we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of written directives, instructions, and guidance from the governor’s office to VDOE. The governor’s office declined to fulfill our FOIA request, citing a section of the law that makes “working papers and correspondence of the Office of the Governor” exempt from mandatory release.
10 On Your Side investigators asked Youngkin if he’s communicated with VDOE about Executive Order 1, and he said yes.
“The short answer is yes. The long answer is we brought in a bunch of new people, and I’m excited about the people we brought in,” Youngkin said. “We had an extraordinary inflow of talent, and this talent has been put to work right away.”
In the last year, education experts have often said that Critical Race Theory isn’t taught in Virginia’s K-12 public schools. 10 On Your Side investigators interviewed Atif Qarni, the former secretary of education during Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, and asked him if he’s aware of Critical Race Theory being part of VDOE’s curriculum.
“No, CRT is not taught anywhere in our curriculum and standards,” Qarni said. “It’s not to my knowledge. I know that for a fact because I reviewed every single curriculum and standard in my job. That was my job to review that, and it’s not taught anywhere.”
10 On Your Side investigators also spoke with Vivian Hamilton, a law professor and the director of William & Mary’s Center for Social Justice who teaches Critical Race Theory at the college level. She said Critical Race Theory is an advanced intellectual movement that most law students don’t learn about unless they take specialized courses.
“It’s a body of principles that aims to understand why Black people and other people of color continue to occupy the bottom-most social rungs of society,” Hamilton said.
Critical Race Theory has become a hot-button issue in American politics — from the race for the governor’s office, to local school board meetings. Hamilton said she believes the political backlash against Critical Race Theory stems from national conversations about race that began in 2020 when George Floyd was murdered by a former Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin.
“It generated resentment among a lot of white people who are simply unaccustomed to thinking about race in a sustained way,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said that Critical Race Theory isn’t meant to make anyone feel guilty, but seeks to educate people on the discrimination certain groups face in America. She agrees that Critical Race Theory shouldn’t be taught in Virginia’s K-12 schools, but believes that the purpose of motions to ban it seek to control the narrative of the Commonwealth’s complicated history.
“Learning is not always comfortable and yes, lessons need to be age-appropriate and grade-appropriate,” she said.
Youngkin said the goal of Executive Order 1 isn’t to erase history but to ensure the good and bad are taught without forcing children to judge one another or telling them what they should think.
“I think this is a very clear message: Let’s not have divisive concepts that force our children to judge one another through a lens of race, religion, or sex,” Youngkin said. “Let’s teach all of our history — the good and the bad.”