Category Archives: Culture wars

Northam Appoints Leaders to Guide Public School Overhaul

Sen. Jennifer Boysko, new co-chair of The Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices Advisory Committee

by James A. Bacon

Governor Ralph Northam has announced his appointees to an advisory committee tasked with making recommendations about adopting “culturally relevant and inclusive education practices” in Virginia’s public schools.

The committee will be led by three co-chairs: Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon, who introduced legislation to set up the committee; Francisco Durán, Arlington County school superintendent; and Andrew Daire, dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education.

Francisco Durán, Arlington school superintendent and committee co-chair

“Inclusive and culturally relevant learning environments are vital to creating equitable pathways to success for all Virginians,” Northam said in a press release announcing the appointments. (See the full list here.) “The work of this committee will advance our ongoing efforts to tell the complete and accurate story of Virginia’s complex past, improve our history standards, and give educators opportunities to engage in important conversations and lessons with their students.”

“When we teach an honest narrative of our past, students better understand their place in history and are equipped to work toward a better society,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “This committee will build on the work of the Commission on African American History Education to ensure the content taught in Virginia classrooms is accurate and inclusive of perspectives which have been historically marginalized.” Continue reading

Old News: Transgenders and Bathrooms. New News: Taxpayer-Funded Gender Reassignment Surgery

Del. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, Virginia’s first transgender legislator.

by James A. Bacon

I’m surprised this hasn’t caused an uproar yet: In his newly revised budget, Governor Ralph Northam wants to guarantee that transgender enrollees in Virginia’s expanded Medicaid program have access to “gender-affirming” care.

“This is an important equity issue and a critical part of making our commonwealth welcoming and inclusive of all,” Northam spokesperson Alena Yarmonksy told The Virginia Mercury.

The Mercury cites an estimate that 34,500 transgender people live in Virginia, of whom 2,000 are on Medicaid. Medical treatments can range from counseling to hormonal therapy and gender reassignment surgeries. If the General Assembly adopts Northam’s budget language, Virginia would become the 19th state to explicitly state that Medicaid covers transgender treatments. Continue reading

Whither the Statues?

Ryan K. Smith

by James A. Bacon

Now that most Confederate statues have been removed from prominent public places, where will they go? They’re too big to fit into museums without expensive retrofitting, and not many museum boards are likely to welcome the controversy of housing them anyway. A commonly suggested alternative is to move the memorials to cemeteries.

But apparently even that idea will engender controversy. In a recent op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Ryan K. Smith, a Virginia Commonwealth University history professor, calls the introduction of statues into cemeteries “a political statement.” He concludes: “However much dignity we might wish for the individual dead, we cannot lend the sanctity of their cemeteries for a new Lost Cause.”

It appears that some people can’t declare victory and call it a day. Not content to remove the statues from prominent views, they effectively want to extirpate them entirely from the public sphere. Continue reading

The Gray Lady Backs School Testing

James Lane
Superintendent of Public Instruction

by James C. Sherlock

I wrote in a column not long ago that it will be impossible to create plans to make up for COVID-related learning losses if we cannot benchmark those losses and their subsequent mitigation.

I recommended standardized testing as the only readily available and proven way to take those measurements.

For most readers of this space, the concept that standardized testing (SOLs in the case of Virginia) is required this spring to establish a baseline for learning losses is simple common sense. For the national teachers unions and for much of the woke left, standardized testing is considered unfair to the poor, a vestige of systemic racism and a violation of dogma.

What is unfair to disadvantaged children is to mask their educational needs by burying the evidence.

That is why it is good to see that the editorial board of the New York Times, in this morning’s lead editorial, has written that we need standardized testing for benchmarking of learning losses. Continue reading

Welcome to the New Year, Same as the Old Year

2021 New Year baby?

by James A. Bacon

Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, my wife and friends and I tossed confetti, tooted our noisemakers and welcomed in a new year. Twenty twenty, we all agreed, couldn’t possibly be worse than 2019.

It didn’t take long to disabuse us of that notion. First came the coronavirus. Then the George Floyd protests and riots. And then the presidential election. We won’t be celebrating New Year’s Eve with anyone this year — we’ll be hunkering down in social isolation — but we’re thinking that, short of an outbreak of nuclear war, 2021 has got to be better than our current annus horribilis.

But it could be a close call.

On the positive side, we should be on the downward slope of the COVID-19 epidemic as vaccines are administered and herd immunity sets in. Life for most will return to normal. We’ll be able to socialize and travel once more. But 2021 will be no epidemiological nirvana. The virus will do plenty of harm on its way out. Millions more Americans will be infected and tens of thousands likely will die. Many people will suffer lingering medical after-effects from the virus. And the nation will be dealing with the economic, mental-health and fiscal fallout for years to come. Continue reading

Critical Lizard Theory Sweeps Nation

By Peter Galuszka

Bacon’s Rebellion has been filled with many thumbsuckers about how “Critical Race Theory” is an existential threat to Western Civilization.

But now there is a new theory of concern that makes the racial considerations seem, well, so 2020.

It is called “Critical Lizard Theory” and it actually exists.

According to NBC News, investigators are probing possible links between Nashville suicide bomber Anthony Quinn Warner and the conspiracy idea that many prominent people in the world such as Queen Elizabeth, the Clintons, Barack Obama, Madonna, Paul McCartney and even Bob Hope are or were lizard-like aliens who arrived on Earth and assumed human characteristics.

There seems to be evidence that Warner made trips to an undisclosed spot in Tennessee to check into aliens, NBC reports. Warner is believed to have constructed a bomb at his suburban Nashville home and placed it in a recreational vehicle before setting it off in the city’s downtown. Continue reading

Media Bashing at Bacon’s Rebellion

by Peter Galuszka

Two recent blog posts critical of The Washington Post and The New York Times are way out of line.

They assume that two leading newspapers have a definite agenda on race.

Jim Bacon goes after the Post for reporting about the bad experiences a Black student, Rafael Jenkins, endured during  ‘”Rat Week” hazing at the Virginia Military Institute.

When Jenkins was reluctant to recite the names of 10 VMI graduates who died while fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War, a senior cadet screamed at him that he’d be lynched and his body would be used as a punching bag.

Jenkins, who had been suspected of cheating during his ACT entry exam, was accused of cheating on a test at VMI. He was convicted of what seems largely circumstantial evidence and left the school. The Post piece lays this all out.

Is this a story? Of course it is. Black alumni have made vigorous calls to investigate systemic racism at the state-supported school. The president has resigned. Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered a probe of what is going on.

This blog skirts these issues by claiming there is no racism and not questioning why Virginia taxpayers are footing the bill for such behavior. Why pay for such ridiculous hazing? If the state wants a Parris Island, then erect one. It is so odd that conservative VMI gets a pass while the more liberal University of Virginia is the devil incarnate. Continue reading

The Thought Police Have Her on Video

Rapper Jay Z

by James C. Sherlock

You know how some things play out exactly as you expect and you still can’t figure out why they happen? Such a thing happened to me this morning when I opened the New York Times.

On the front page was an article that was a rehash of reporting that had been done in Virginia and Tennessee newspapers in early June of this year.

It was, of course, about racism (or close enough for the Times). In Leesburg, Virginia. Nearly five years ago. By a then newly 15 year-old girl. Who sent a three-second video to her girlfriend on which she celebrated getting her learner’s permit by saying “I can drive, N—–“.  In which she was imitating the language used on the rap music that dominated her and her friends’ play lists.

Mr. Daniel Levin writes about how that incident got blown up on the internet and ruined a young girl’s life.

If it did not when the story was originally published, Mr. Levin and his editors have assured it. The story has gone national, six months after it was first reported, complete with the young girl’s name and picture, part of “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” Sunday front page version. Continue reading

The Use of Racial Prisms

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The perception that progressives and the “cultural elite” view  “every public policy issue through a racial prism” has become a favorite whipping boy on this blog. Those raising this objection would prefer that race and ethnicity not be used as criteria for shaping or evaluating public policy.

I, too, am sometimes uncomfortable with the insistence that public policy be evaluated in racial terms. What I am also uncomfortable with is what seems a pretension by some that liberals and progressives have been the first to view policy and society through a “racial prism.” Continue reading

UVa and Tech — Less Intolerant than Other Elite Universities

by James A. Bacon

I have been critical of Virginia’s colleges and universities, especially the University of Virginia, for the intolerance of conservative political and cultural viewpoints. But there’s another side to the story, and I believe in presenting all the evidence, not just the facts that fit my narrative. By the standards of other elite U.S universities — admittedly an extraordinarily low bar — UVa and Virginia Tech are less intolerant of diverse viewpoints than most.

Indeed in the College Free Speech Rankings based on a survey of 20,000 college students at 55 top universities, the University of Virginia scored 6th and Virginia Tech scored 8th for freedom of speech and expression. Both fell far short of the University of Chicago, which sets the gold standard, but they far exceeded Ivy League institutions like Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth.

Jim Sherlock has already taken a bite of this apple here. I’m circling back for a second look at the data generated by the rankings, a joint project of College Pulse, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and RealClear Education. First the scores, then an explanation of how they were derived, and then a deep dive into the data.

Continue reading

The New Face of Virginia’s GOP

Amanda Chase. Credit: Scott Elmquist, Style Weekly

By Peter Galuszka

If ever one photo best describes what 2020 was like in Virginia, this shot, by the brilliant veteran photographer Scott Elmquist at Style Weekly, shows it.

The photo is of state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, at a July 4 rally at the capitol. Her defiant expression, the assault-style rifle and the over-the-top elephant skirt tell you what has become of the Virginia Republican Party, which hasn’t won a statewide public office in about a decade.

Chase is a pistol-packing, foul-mouthed, tough-talking show girl who is running for governor and backs the dangerous authoritarian tendencies of outgoing President Donald Trump. Chase is so extreme that her county GOP kicked her out.

Republicans were still so frightened of her that they decided to hold conventions and not a primary to decide between her and Kirk Cox, a more moderate politician and perhaps anyone else who runs. Now Chase has announced she will run as a Republican. Doing so gives her a leg up. Continue reading

When I Was “Canceled” at UVa

by Matthew Cameron

Cancel culture has been a hot topic in 2020. Most recently, it’s become a discussion point among those concerned about the state of academic freedom and intellectual diversity at my own alma mater, the University of Virginia.

The strongest critique of cancel culture at UVA emerged in October when alumnus Joel Gardner published an open letter to University President Jim Ryan imploring him to “strongly condemn the ‘cancel culture’ practice” and “focus on the real diversity that is important on college campuses–diversity of thought–rather than diversity of race, ethnicity and gender which has proven to be divisive.”

Reading Gardner’s letter and follow-up column for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, I was reminded of my own brush with cancel culture as a student newspaper editor at UVA almost a decade ago. Recalling that tumultuous time inspires within me the same concern that Gardner and others have expressed about the threat of intellectual intimidation within our campus communities.

Yet my experience also illustrates a problem with Gardner’s conclusion that “the main culprit behind these problems has been the purposeful politicization of our college communities” and his recommendation that UVA should “emphasize the traditions and values that have bound Wahoos together for decades — most especially honor and trust.” Continue reading

Orwellian Aspirations, a False Alumni Association Narrative, and Adult Supervision at UVa

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes things come together that confirm one’s worst fears but improve hope for the future simultaneously. Such a turning point happened with me not long after UVa’s alumni magazine, Virginia (Winter Edition 2020), arrived at my house earlier this month.  

The first story in the magazine was a piece written by Richard Gard (Col ’81), alumni association vice president for communications and editor of Virginia. It was titled “BOV Blesses Racial Equity Plan — More Diversity, Less Confederacy.” Catchy.

It purported to update alumni on “Audacious Future: Commitment Required,” the report of the University’s racial equity task force, and the Board of Visitors’ specifically partial and entirely unfunded endorsement of that report.

The members of that task force were:

  • Kevin McDonald, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Partnerships 
  • Ian H. Solomon, Dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy
  • Barbara Brown Wilson, Assistant Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and co-founder and Faculty Director of UVA’s Equity Center

All three were smiling in the pictures that accompanied the article. Hard to say why. Continue reading

Prince William Republicans Walk Out of “Bias” Training Session

Prince William Supervisor Pete Candland

by James A. Bacon

First comes bias training, then comes anti-bias enforcement. Can the thought police be far behind?

In Prince William County last week, three Republican members of the Board of Supervisors walked out of a presentation, “Raising Awareness of Unconscious Bias to Foster Inclusivity and Equity,” at a joint meeting of the supervisors and county school board.

Supervisor Pete Candland said he found “insulting” a presentation that insinuated that board members held racial biases. Furthermore, he said the issue was a distraction from the pressing issue of how best to educate children during the COVID-19 epidemic. “During this critical time of the global pandemic, kids having issues at home, concerns about funding our schools moving forward, they decided to take this time to talk about Implicit Bias Critical Race Theory.”

“I felt that it was important to walk out and not just sit there, because I refuse to legitimize this notion that we are all somehow racist,” concurred Supervisor Yesli Vega, as reported by Bristow Beat. Continue reading

Liberty’s Curious “Think Tank”

By Peter Galuszka

Imagine there is a “think tank” at a private, non-profit university. It produces no academic papers and does no peer-reviewed research. Instead, it holds podcasts, seminars and buys ads on Facebook that obviously promote a political party and president.

Would that be a “think tank” or a political action committee?

That about sums up the situation involving Falkirk Center at Liberty University in Lynchburg, according to Politico, a Washington-based news outlet.

True, Liberty is a private, conservative religious institution. But that does not mean it can do what it wants.

“Universities are not allowed to back candidates or be involved in elections because of their status as 501c(3) nonprofits, which exempts institutions like Liberty from paying income tax and allows donors to deduct their donations from their taxes,” according to Politico. Continue reading