Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin took to the national stage Thursday night during CNN’s “The War Over Education” town hall to promote, and defend, efforts he’s led in the commonwealth’s schools.
Education issues, particularly giving parents more of a say in policy, were the centerpiece of Youngkin’s successful run for the governorship.
He fielded a host of questions from a room packed with Virginians.
Critical Race Theory
The Republican governor defended his decision to ban teaching critical race theory, which says racism is ingrained in every system of the U.S., from top to bottom, not just individual prejudices.
“Teaching our history is critical. And I have said all along that our standard should be to teach all of it, the good and the bad. And we can’t walk away from our history because there have been just incredibly, incredibly difficult, challenging dark times in our history as a commonwealth and as a nation,” Youngkin said. “We need to teach it honestly and transparently, but we shouldn’t teach it with judgment.”
He called critical race theory “inherently divisive.”
“Critical race theory isn’t a class that’s taught. It’s … a philosophy that’s incorporated in the curriculum. … This is a chance to make sure that we’re not pitting our children against one another based on race or religion or their sex,” he said.
Youngkin came under fire in 2022 after his administration set up a tip line for Virginia parents to report such instances of “inherently divisive” practices, as well as concerns about curriculum, books, and masking (he signed a bill banning mask mandates in schools in February 2022). That tip line was shuttered later in the year.
Asked if he believed there was an unspoken culture of racism and implicit bias against teachers of color, the governor said he believes racism is very real and should be condemned, but “how we move forward is up to us.”
“I think there’s an opportunity for us to put down the accusations and put down the judgment and move together in a way that lifts up all people,” he said.
The father of a boy whose teacher was shot in Newport News after a 6-year-old brought a gun into school asked Youngkin what was being done to protect students and staff in classrooms.
Youngkin said more gun laws weren’t the answer.
“Virginia has some of the toughest gun laws in the country,” he said. “And what we continue to find is … it’s not laws that keep us safe. It’s the behavior of people that we need to make sure that we are paying attention to. Parents have a responsibility to keep guns out of their young children’s hands, and they need to be held accountable for that.”
Youngkin said there’s “an extraordinary behavioral health crisis across the commonwealth and across the nation.” He wants to invest more money for counseling and crisis units in schools.
The governor stood firm on his proposed policy changes when it comes to transgender students, which would require them to play on sports teams and use restrooms that correspond with their sex assigned at birth.
A 17-year-old transgender man from Arlington asked: “Do you really think that the girls in my high school would feel comfortable sharing a restroom with me?”
Youngkin’s answer was that schools need extra bathrooms.
“We need gender-neutral bathrooms so people can use a bathroom that they in fact are comfortable with,” he said, adding that he didn’t think his stance on sports was “controversial.”
“I don’t think that biological boys should be playing sports with biological girls,” Youngkin said.
Parents and Teachers
He reiterated parental involvement.
“There’s a basic rule here, which is that children belong to parents, not to the state, not to schools, not to bureaucrats, but to parents,” Youngkin said. “I believe firmly that parents have a right to be engaged in their children’s lives.”
Behind parents are teachers, the governor said, and he wants them to be paid more after making a promise during his campaign.
“I’m proud to say that, in our first year, we were able to pay teachers more and deliver on that on that promise. A 5 percent raise last year, another 5 percent raise this year, for 10 percent, over a two-year period. But we need to do better,” Youngkin said.
Banning Artificial Intelligence
Another issue educators are dealing with is the rise of artificial intelligence, like ChatGPT, which can generate essays and homework answers on a whim.
The governor is not a fan.
Youngkin said the use of AI programs in Virginia schools should be banned.
“I think we should just be clear about what our goal of education is, which is to make sure that our kids can think,” Youngkin said. “And, therefore, if a machine is thinking for them, then we’re not accomplishing our goal. I do think that it’s something to be very careful of, and I do think more school districts should ban it.”
Using AI to do students’ work for them isn’t the only thing the governor believes should be banned.
Asked by an Alexandria high schooler if Youngkin would support removing certain books from school libraries, he said he did, depending on what parents want.
“If those are sexually explicit materials that aren’t consistent with family values, then a parent can request … replacement material into their child’s curriculum,” Youngkin said. He added that he would sign a bill that recommended book removal policies.
Youngkin’s Political Future
When CNN host Jake Tapper asked the governor if he’s considering joining the presidential race in 2024, Youngkin demurred, but didn’t rule it out.
“I’m not writing a book,” Youngkin said. “In fact, the book that I’m hoping to write is the book we’re talking about right now: playbook for education.”
Featured image courtesy CNN
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