Institutionalizing the Social Justice Movement in Virginia Schools

James F. Lane, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction

In the aftermath of revelations that Virginia’s governor and attorney general both dressed in blackface more than 30 years ago, James F. Lane, superintendent of Virginia public schools, thinks it’s time to engage in a “dialogue” about race, racism, and bigotry. He laid out his thoughts about how to shape such a dialogue in a Feb. 22, 2019, memo to local school superintendents.

The memo starts promisingly enough, expressing lofty ambitions that all can share: “We must all join together to renew our commitment to equity and the elimination of racism of any kind from our public school experience.” But he quickly goes awry. He next urges the school superintendents to “reflect on these events and the conditions that exist within our culture and communities that created space and place for these hurtful symbols to be perceived by some as acceptable” — implying that incidents and attitudes that took place decades ago are prevalent in schools today.

Lane then reiterates a call for “meaningful dialogue” on racism and bigotry with students, staffs and school communities. He encourages the superintendents to ensure that lessons are designed “with racial sensitivity and cultural competence in mind,” and to take action when students or staff engage in “inappropriate and unprofessional conduct.”

Questions arise. How does Lane define “racial sensitivity and cultural competence?” And what constitutes “inappropriate and unprofessional conduct?” He answers the questions indirectly by providing a list of “resources” for teachers, parents, and school division leaders, as well as his own “reading list.” His idea of “dialogue,” it appears, consists of indoctrinating Virginia’s school system with the radical left-wing narrative of Endemic Racial Oppression.

To see how profoundly leftist Lane’s thinking is, I don’t need to cherry pick quotes. I replicate verbatim his description of the five books that he and other members of the Virginia Department of Education staff are reading this month ‘based on recommendations that we have received.”

White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo.
Antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility. Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder.  Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

For White Folks That Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Ya’ll Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education (Race, Education and Democracy), by Christopher Emdin.
Drawing on his own experience of feeling undervalued and invisible in classrooms as a young man of color and merging his experiences with more than a decade of teaching and researching in urban America, award-winning educator Christopher Emdin offers a new lens on an approach to teaching and learning in urban schools. Putting forth his theory of Reality Pedagogy, Emdin provides practical tools to unleash the brilliance and eagerness of youth and educators alike—both of whom have been typecast and stymied by outdated modes of thinking about urban education.

No BS (Bad Stats): Black People Need People Who Believe in Black People Enough Not to Believe Every Bad Thing They Hear about Black People, by Ivory A. Toldson
What if everything you thought you knew about Black people generally, and educating Black children specifically, was based on BS (bad stats)? We often hear things like, “Black boys are a dying breed,” “There are more Black men in prison than college,” “Black children fail because single mothers raise them,” and “Black students don’t read.” In No BS, Ivory A. Toldson uses data analysis, anecdotes, and powerful commentary to dispel common myths and challenge conventional beliefs about educating Black children. With provocative, engaging, and at times humorous prose, Toldson teaches educators, parents, advocates, and students how to avoid BS, raise expectations, and create an educational agenda for Black children that is based on good data, thoughtful analysis, and compassion. No BS helps people understand why Black people need people who believe in Black people enough not to believe every bad thing they hear about Black people.

Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education, by Edward Taylor, David Gillborn, and Gloria Ladson-Billings
The emergence of Critical Race Theory (CRT) marked an important point in the history of racial politics in the legal academy and the broader conversation about race and racism in the United States. More recently, CRT has proven an important analytic tool in the field of education, offering critical perspectives on race, and the causes, consequences and manifestations of race, racism, inequity, and the dynamics of power and privilege in schooling. This groundbreaking anthology is the first to pull together both the foundational writings in the field and more recent scholarship on the cultural and racial politics of schooling. A comprehensive introduction provides an overview of the history and tenets of CRT in education. Each section then seeks to explicate ideological contestation of race in education and to create new, alternative accounts. In so doing, this landmark publication not only documents the progress to date of the CRT movement, it acts to further spur developments in education. 

If this Leftist narrative is grounded in reality, then Virginia’s school children — especially African-American kids — should benefit from the effort to expunge endemic racism from Virginia schools. As a measure of progress attained, we would expect to see some closing of the chronic gap in Standards of Learning test scores between blacks and other racial/ethnic groups. Conversely, if, as I contend, the Leftist narrative is profoundly misguided and destructive to black children, then we should see no closing, or even a worsening, of test scores as the influence of Lane’s “dialogue” percolates through the school system.

I fear this will not end well.

(Hat tip: John Butcher)

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11 responses to “Institutionalizing the Social Justice Movement in Virginia Schools

  1. It sounds like James F Lane and his team are yet another example of government officials in the Richmond establishment without enough to do. We elect our school board in Fairfax County and we neither need nor want some Richmond Educarat with too much time on his hands sending out missives to the busy people who run our school system. Go away Mr Lane and take your team with you.

    If you still have time on your hands try reading “Virginia, The New Dominion, A history from 1607 to the present” by Virginius Dabney. UnlikeTa-Nehisi Coates, Dabney seeks to present real history rather than “reimagined history”.

    • Oh, please, DJ, the folks in Fairfax will eat this up…..and would never let an apologist for privilege like Virginius Dabney (“indentured servants”) anywhere near their students.

      • If the administrators and teachers in the Fairfax County Public School System want to read various books I assume they know the route to the public library or the URL of Amazon. My question is why our taxes pay for some guy in Richmond to run a book club for Educrats. Why do we need a Superintendent of Public Instruction?

        Dr Scott Brabrand is the Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools. Dr Brabrand does not need some guy in Richmond sending out suggested reading lists.

        Richmond is bloated. Time to go on a spending diet.

      • Dabney was a bit of an apologist for privilege in his editorializing. However, when he writes history he does seem able to stick to the subject at hand.

        His aforementioned history book (which ends in 1971) is the best single volume history of Virginia I’ve ever read. His description of the real Bacons Rebellion would make our Baconator’s skin crawl.

        If anybody has suggestions for other books about Virginia’s history that they would like to recommend I’d be happy to hear about those books.

        • You have submitted a challenge. Virginius Dabney’s tome is a classic and comprehensive and (I think) balanced history of Virginia, The New Dominion. But a lot depends on your point of view. If you are interested in civics, in how the government of Virginia has evolved through politics, and in the cultural trends and the personalities who actually influenced the political evolution of Virginia, I think you come up with a very different list than if you are interested in the cultural evolution of Virginia itself.

          In the former category, I suggest T. J. Wertenbaker, The Shaping Of Colonial Virginia (reprint with new preface, 1958, of three seminal books on Virginia: Patrician And Plebeian In Virginia (1910), Virginia Under The Stuarts (1914), and The Planters of Colonial Virginia (1922)); Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia 1740-1790 (1982); J. Harvie Wilkinson, Harry Byrd And The Changing Face Of Virginia Politics 1945-1966 (1968); Frank Atkinson, The Dynamic Dominion, Realignment And The Rise Of Two-Party Competition In Virginia 1945-1980 (revised 2d ed. 1980).

          More in the latter category, but well researched and provocative, try: Ben Campbell, Richmond’s Unhealed History (2012). Campbell’s book explores Richmond history as a product of the State’s embedded attitudes towards and treatment of race.

          There are many more — but these are enough to sate the craving.

  2. re: ” it appears, consists of indoctrinating Virginia’s school system with the radical left-wing narrative of Endemic Racial Oppression.”

    I think you’re off the rails in your assessment…

    The idea is to read these books to see other perspectives – like you would in reading any book – it does NOT necessarily mean that policy becomes what is in the books but rather helps in understanding how to set policy and how to follow policy.

    In other words – the idea is to INFORM the policy.

    and the reason is that right now – policies are essentially artifacts with no real history of why they are what they are – right now.

    CLEARLY – some people of color believe that there is still racism occurring in subtle and not overt ways and it undermines their trust that the system – education – is really as equal as it purports to be.

    I don’t pretend to understand it to the nth degree but what I DO understand is that when blacks as a community are still feeling there is racism going on – we have to choice – to try to listen and understand where they are coming from – or to tell them that from a white perspective – we don’t see it.

    What the Superintendent is saying is that if you REALLY want to understand THEIR perspective – read these books.

    you totally trash the whole concept here by using bomb throwing words like “social justice warriors”.


  3. “The idea is to read these books to see other perspectives.”

    Look at the list. Read the descriptions. Only one perspective is being sought here.

    • Yes – the perspective that to this point – is lacking… it’s the one that black folks say that white folks don’t have and either don’t know they lack it or don’t care.

      We have a world right now where we have Confederate Statues that many white folks see as “history” and many black folks see as memorials to Jim Crow.

      We have a world where black folks see the criminal justice system as one that targets black folks and takes “Dad” out of the family and leaves kids without fathers …. to fail in school…

      We have a world where many white folks say that all of this is in the past and no longer with us – and black folks who strongly disagree.

      White folks blame black folks for their plight. Blacks folks say that they are still victims of racial injustice.

      How do we go forward ? or are White folks saying “we’re done and we don’t need black folks perspectives – we REJECT what black folks are saying”?

  4. It has been called to my attention that the list was “recommended” to Lane by one Leah Walker, who is known to us as the recent accuser of Mrs. Northam. There is a technical term for book like that. Pseudo-intellectual B.S. Jim is not off the rails, Larry. This is what the Schools of Education are focusing on, rather than teaching teachers how to teach.

  5. To close the performance gap, lower the standards — perhaps so low that everyone gets 100%, absolute equity.

    • Exactly, and some special groups get bundles of cash, each worth millions of dollars, based solely and exclusively on the color of the skin of the grantees. That is made plain in writing by recent letter to Governor on what he needs to do to buy forgiveness from some groups for his yearbook blackface and hood gambit. Paid not out of his money, but out of the pocketbooks of all Virginians.

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