Atif Qarni’s Alternate Universe

by James A. Bacon

Atif Qarni, Virginia’s recently- departed secretary of education, has penned an opinion piece for The Washington Post that raises an important question (and I’m not being hyperbolic here): Is the man who oversaw Virginia K-12 and higher-education system for four years under Governor Ralph Northam totally disconnected from reality?

The thesis of Qarni’s piece is that Governor Glenn Youngkin has “declared war on Virginia’s public education system.”

I could shred literally every line in the piece, but it would be tedious to do so. Rather, I’ll focus on the most egregious claim, one that is a common talking point on the Left: the assertion that Youngkin “expressed concern over White students feeling uncomfortable about history lessons involving discussions about race.”

It is true that Youngkin objects to schools, as a matter of school policy, teaching White kids that their race makes them “oppressors,” and that they are “racist” if they fail to acknowledge their White privilege. But he has always insisted that the full history of Virginia be taught in classrooms: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Qarni doesn’t document his assertion because he can’t. Instead, he incoherently lists a series of historical topics taught in schools, some of which have no bearing on his argument.

“Youngkin’s attempt to ban CRT is an attempt to ban the truth about what happened in our history, starting before the arrival of the first ships to Virginia’s shores,” Qarni writes. He goes on to list the following:

  • For example, many Indian tribes resided in Virginia thousands of years before the invasion by English settlers.
  • The first Africans were brought here in 1619 in bondage and forced into slavery by Europeans.
  • Many important figures who revolted against British rule resided in Virginia.
  • Many U.S. presidents were born in Virginia, including four of the first five.
  • Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy from 1861 to 1865, and some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War were fought in Virginia.
  • Virginia is also where 16-year-old Barbara Johns protested the poor conditions of her school, which eventually led to the famous Brown v. Board of Education case that ended segregation in public schools.
  • Virginia is also where “massive resistance” to desegregation, led by U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr., resulted in many schools shutting down in 1958 and 1959 to block integration of classrooms.


Let me rephrase that. WHAT?

Does Qarni think that Youngkin wants to ban teaching the fact that Indian tribes lived in Virginia before the English settlers? (As an aside, I thought “tribe” was pejorative, but, then pejoratives are bad, I guess, only when uttered by the wrong person.) 

Does he think Youngkin wants to ban teaching the fact that the first Africans arrived in a slave ship in 1619?

Even more bizarrely, does he think Youngkin wants to ban teaching the fact that “many important figures who revolted against British rule resided in Virginia” or that Richmond was the Capital of the Confederacy?

This is unhinged. It doesn’t even make sense on its own terms.

Youngkin has been very clear. He wants to ban “Critical Race Theory” from public schools, and by that he means ridding policies, guidelines, curricula, and standards derived from CRT axioms that public schools are systemically racist, that Whites are unfairly “privileged,” and that the antidote to racism is “anti-racism.” He wants to halt the compelled widespread “training” of teachers with the doctrine that Whites are “oppressors” and Blacks are “victims” and end the “courageous dialogues” that indoctrinate students with the same view of the world.

As for history, teachers would continue instructing students about indigenous Americans, the institution of slavery, Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow, and Massive Resistance, all of which are included in the Standards of Learning — even if it makes some White students uncomfortable to revisit the history. What Youngkin wants to ban is compelling White students to accept the view that they are collectively guilty for the actions of their ancestors.

Who’s the real racist here? Who is the person engaging in invidious stereotypes based on skin color? In one sentence, Qarni accuses Youngkin of manufacturing a crisis in K-12 education that does not exist. Then in the next, he refers to “racist” White parents who are Youngkin’s “foot soldiers.”

That wasn’t a slip. In the closing paragraph of his piece, he writes, “Racist parents are showing up in droves to school board meetings, threatening members and superintendents with recalls, firing — and worse.”

That is precisely the kind of sweeping characterization that has become shamefully common in many public school districts and precisely what many voters rebelled against. To Qarni, those who protest his vision for education are violent racists…. Just one step removed, one might surmise, from being domestic terrorists.

Qarni’s rambling tract is not only factually impoverished and intellectually incoherent, but scary. Thankfully, Qarni is no longer teaching history to high school students, as he did before joining Team Northam. He now works as director of external affairs at the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, where he can do far less harm.