The Winners-Take-All Politics of Virginia Schools

by James A. Bacon

Two stories today highlight how public schools have become a political and culture-wars battleground in which winners take all and losers are vanquished.

First, the culture-wars story courtesy of the Daily Signal, a conservative news source associated with the Heritage Foundation:

Parents in Loudoun County, Virginia, are outraged after discovering that thousands of books were placed in classrooms across the school district this year as part of a new “Diverse Classroom Library Initiative.”

While most of these books focus on introducing kids to different cultures and ethnicities, parents began to discover that an alarming number of the books focused on “sexual diversity,” contain sexually explicit language, including “frequent descriptions of underage drinking, fondling, masturbation, orgasms, oral sex, sexual intercourse, sexual abuse, statutory rape, incest, and rape.”

Even books at the kindergarten level promote LGBT ideology through books such as “My Princess Boy,” designed to introduce 5- and 6-year-olds to the harmful idea that they can change their gender.

Second, an article in the Washington Post about privacy-invading technology, also in Loudoun County, as it turns out:

When Christian Chase wants to take a bathroom break at his high school, he can’t just raise his hand.

Instead, the 17-year-old senior makes a special request on his school-issued Chromebook computer. A teacher approves it pending any red flags in the system, such as another student he should avoid out in the hall at the same time, then logs him back in on his return. If he were out of class for more than a set amount of time, the application would summon an administrator to check on him.

Heritage High School in Loudoun County, Va., introduced the software, called e-Hallpass, in September as a way to track trips to the bathroom, the nurse’s office, the principal or other places on campus. It collects the data for each student’s comings and goings so approved administrators can see pass histories or look for patterns.

Bacon’s bottom line: My point here is not to argue the rightness or wrongness of either Loudoun County school policy. Rather, I ask the question: What happens if you don’t like the way your child’s school teaches sexual morality or if you don’t like your school tracking your child’s every movement?

You’re SOL. (And I’m not referring to Standards of Learning).

Your first unpalatable option is to go political, vote into power a slate of school board members who share your views, and enact policies that suit you but make some other guy unhappy. Winner-take-all is intrinsic to Virginia’s top-down educational system, which allows little breathing room for dissenters. Exercising immense control over local school districts, the Virginia Department of Education imposes considerable uniformity. Likewise, city and county school boards set policy for schools in their districts, imposing uniformity in those areas not dictated by the state. Local school boards don’t like to share power any more than the educrats in Richmond do: Of nearly 2,200 public schools in Virginia, only nine were charter schools.

Alternatively, you could move to a different city or county with a school system governed by a different philosophy. That’s just great — assuming you can afford to move into a new district. And assuming you can find a district where a majority of the electorate shares your views and somehow has withstood the assaults of federal regulators, state regulators, and ACLU lawsuits to maintain its distinctiveness.

A third option is to recognize that in a diverse country, people have diverse views and values, and try to accommodate those views as much as is practicable. More charter schools, more vouchers, more home schooling. More freedom. Who could possibly be against more freedom? Only those who seek to impose their views on everyone around them…. who, unfortunately, seem to run the show these days.

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13 responses to “The Winners-Take-All Politics of Virginia Schools

  1. This is nothing new. Schools have always been involved in the culture wars. It was not that long ago that local schools could dictate which school students went to based on their race. Complaints about the books used in schools are also common. We have discussed on this blog the biases long inherent in Virginia history textbooks. Parents need to be aware of what their children are reading and discuss those books with them, if they have concerns.

    As far as agendas in the culture wars go, the Heritage Foundation reveals its agenda in its comment on the “harmful idea” of gender change.

    Regarding options, when did the political option become “unpalatable”? Among the other options cited as being needed to provide more freedom is homeschooling. Virginia has some of the most lax requirements for homeschooling in the country. I might be fine with vouchers if they could be used across jurisdictions. It would be interesting to see the reactions of Henrico and Chesterfield to an influx of students from Richmond to some of the “top” schools in those counties. (Of course, if a student does not have transportation available, vouchers do him/her no good.) And I have no objection to charter schools, as long as they meet the basic educational standards of the district and are set up to allow/enable all students in the district to attend.

  2. And the private Christian school next door just grows and grows….

  3. As predicted here for years, 1984, the leviathan state, has arrived in Loudoun County, Virginia in full force.

    Sensible parents, seeing this ugly reality, will get their kids out of Loudoun’s public schools as quick as they can, for the sake of their children.

    This option has long been exercised in the past by parents, but today those options are expanding rapidly – private schools, church schools, charters, home schools, all are thriving, even the church schools now in slow degrees are coming back in some places.

    Meanwhile public schools are dying quickly as places of learning and culture building. As for those public schools left, kids are fed to the wolves. This will continue unless their parents stand up. And in more and more places, parents are. But the fight has only just started. The opponents of parents are fighting a long term campaign to undermine the culture, legacy, independent, and autonomy, of our children, who state and its administrators now threatened their identity, culture, and legacy.

    For example:

    On November 1o, 2017 in my article here titled “Toxic Brew: Relativism and Globalism,” I wrote this:

    “over these past six years, I concluded that higher education has undermined the ability of students to stand on their own two feet. As early as the mid-1980s, William Bennett, then Head of the National Council of the Arts and Humanities, predicted the demise of the humanities at our elite national universities. He foretold the infection and destruction of traditional courses in the liberal arts and humanities (history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and literature, particularly western literature and the classics) with post-modernist relativism, deconstruction, and critical culture theory. His fears have come to pass.Academic leftists have weaponized this poison in the form of political correctness, safe spaces, claims of micro-aggression, and politics grounded in race and gender to drive an endlessly growing list of grievances and create a new identity-based hierarchy on the college campus. Much of this ideology has played out in Charlottesville with the UVa administration’s witting connivance, especially in the furtherance of the “epidemic of rape” canard.

    Remarkably, efforts to undermine American culture and society went largely unopposed for decades. Leftists have succeeded in hollowing out the center of our culture, and its confidence, and its coherence, and its ability to function. Now it is spreading chaos everywhere. Our institutions of higher learning have, to a marked degree, abandoned not only their roots but their sponsors, their fund-payers, their students, and in some cases the very buildings and spaces they inhabit in their quest for greener fields worldwide. This they call globalism …”

    For more of my article see: https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/toxic-brew-relativism-globalism/

    Meanwhile, understand this toxic blew threatening our kids was cooked up, weaponized, and its now being deployed from the Grounds of the University of Virginia at the expense of Virginia’s parents and its taxpayers.

    • As to the pernicious invasion of the leviathan state into the classrooms, halls, bathrooms and playing fields of public schools from K-12 (such as Heritage High School) this Roger Scruton story is a harbinger of Loudon County’s future:

      “Reed Fawell 3rd | September 8, 2019 comment under Post Yup, Virginia Universities Discriminate Against Asians;

      “One day an invitation came to me, by word of mouth, to address an underground seminar in Prague. I accepted; as a result, I was brought into contact with people for whom the pursuit of knowledge and culture was not a dispensable luxury but a necessity. Nothing else could provide them with what they sought, which was an escape route from the world of lies by which they were surrounded. And by discussing the Western cultural heritage among themselves, they were marked out as heretics, who risked arrest and imprisonment merely for meeting as they did. Ironically, perhaps the greatest intellectual achievement of the Communist party was to convince people that Plato’s distinction between knowledge and opinion is a valid one, and that ideological opinion is not merely distinct from knowledge but the enemy of knowledge, the disease implanted in the human brain that makes it impossible to distinguish true ideas from false ones. That was the disease spread by the Party. And it was spread by Foucault, too. For it was Foucault who taught my colleagues to evaluate every idea, every argument, every institution, convention, or tradition in terms of the “domination” that it masks. Truth and falsehood had no real significance in Foucault’s world; all that mattered was power.

      These issues had been brought into sharp relief for the Czechs and Slovaks by ­Václav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless” (1978), enjoining his compatriots to “live in truth.” How could they do that, if they were unable to distinguish the true from the false? And how could they distinguish the true from the false without the benefit of real culture and real knowledge? Hence the search for those things had become urgent. And the price of that search was high—harassment, arrest, deprivation of ordinary rights and privileges, and a life on the margins of society. When something has a high moral price, only committed people will pursue it. I therefore found, in the underground seminars, a unique student body—people dedicated to ­knowledge, as I understood it, and aware of the ease and the danger of replacing knowledge with mere opinion. Moreover, they were looking for knowledge in the place where it is most necessary and also hardest to find—in philosophy, history, art, and literature, in the places where critical understanding, rather than scientific method, is our only guide. And what was most interesting to me was the urgent desire among all my new students to inherit what had been handed down to them. They had been raised in a world where all forms of belonging, other than submission to the ruling Party, had been marginalized or denounced as crimes. They understood instinctively that a cultural heritage is precious, precisely because it offers a rite of passage into the thing that you truly are and the community of feeling that is yours.

      There was another winsome feature of the underground seminars, which is that their intellectual resources were so sparse. Academics in the West are obliged to publish articles and books if they are to advance in their careers, and in the years since the Second World War this had led to a proliferation of literature that, if not always second-rate from the intellectual point of view, has almost invariably been without literary merit—stodgy, cluttered with footnotes, without telling imagery or turns of phrase, and both ephemeral in content and impossible to ignore. The weight of this pseudo-literature oppresses both teachers and students in the humanities, and it is now all but impossible to unearth the classics that lie buried beneath it.

      I sometimes think that the greatest service to our culture was done by the person who set fire to the library at Alexandria, …” END Quote:

      For more of article written by Roger Scruton in First Things (April, 2015) please go t0:

      https://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/04/the-end-of-the-university

  4. Odd but I don’t recall this when I kids were in public school back in the late 1990s. I certainly do not recall this when my older daughter attended pre-K at Pencil Factory School Number Two in Moscow where we lived in the mid 1990s. I’m not scared of kids learning that there is homosexuality out there (the godfather of one of my daughters is gay) although I wonder if they need to learn about sex acts at very young ages. Fact is: times change. If parents don’t like the generally accepted curriculum they can go private or home school.

  5. The only thing Orwell got wrong was the year.

    We have Newspeak where certain terms and phrases are assumed to trigger negative responses and require trigger warnings. Comrade deBlasio in the failing city of New York concerns himself with making the term “illegal alien” illegal if it’s used in a hateful way. That hateful intent is, of course, a thoughtcrime. Perpetual war is obvious with US Army recruits now training for a war that started before they were born. Trump pulling a tiny American force out of Syria was roundly criticized by the adherents of perpetual war. Pervasive government surveillance results in the Chinese using social media to give its citizens a social score while the liberals of Loudoun School Board implement e-hallpass. The Silicon Valley billionaires who make the surveillance tools donate millions to the leftist politicians who use them. When Trump cuts back on the trade that finances the totalitarian regime in China he is roundly criticized … from the left. Confederate statues are removed in acts of historical negationism. Big Brother likes the Common Core since it aids in indoctrination. School choice would undermine Big Brother.

    Anybody who hasn’t read Nineteen Eighty Four since 1984 ought to download or buy a copy and re-read it. The only thing Orwell got wrong was the year.

  6. >>If parents don’t like the “generally accepted curriculum” etc.

    I guess there’s a real definitional problem with what is “generally accepted”, isn’t there Peter?

    • Yep. Who controls the curriculum. There is a system and a path. Get used to it.

      • Then I guess I don’t get your point. You say you question whether kids at age 5 need to be taught about sex acts, but then you say times change, get over it. Do you think teaching kids about sex acts at age 5 is “generally accepted”

        • Crazy jd. i cannot address how school districts decide curricula. That is up to school boards most elected. I have personally seen the flip side—right wing zealots trying to ban books that my private, Catholic high school had us read in the 196os

          • This is one of the more controversial aspects of schools – public, charter, private, etc.

            Parents often want to be the ones to decide what their kids will read or not and when and there’s the issue of WHERE , i.e. in the classroom, in the school library, other places where the parents have no insight nor control.

            And at some point, the idea that parents can prevent their kids from “reading” – is futile.

            One more thing – what makes ANY parent really KNOW what is “right” or not? It’s a bit of an imperious attitude when we say something like ” I decide what my child will read”?

            You probably can pull it off til the 3rd or 4th grade but after that – they’re gonna see stuff you would not approve of. Right?

            It’s things like character and values that you CAN instill as well as lead by example but at some point , you’re dealing with another human being as much or more so than a “kid”.

  7. I hope all of you have read the book The Crimes of the Educators. The march to the present state of the public schools started over 100 years ago, with no deviation from its original objective.
    Does LarrytheG really think that all child guidance after 3rd grade is imperial? Parents can and should decide what their child reads — and studies.

  8. Statement from Secretary DeVos on 2019 NAEP Results
    October 30, 2019
    Contact: Press Office, (202) 401-1576, [email protected]

    WASHINGTON—U.S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released the following statement on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results:

    “Every American family needs to open The Nation’s Report Card this year and think about what it means for their child and for our country’s future. The results are, frankly, devastating. This country is in a student achievement crisis, and over the past decade it has continued to worsen, especially for our most vulnerable students.

    “Two out of three of our nation’s children aren’t proficient readers. In fact, fourth grade reading declined in 17 states and eighth grade reading declined in 31. The gap between the highest and lowest performing students is widening, despite $1 trillion in Federal spending over 40 years designated specifically to help close it.

    “This must be America’s wake-up call. We cannot abide these poor results any longer. We can neither excuse them away nor simply throw more money at the problem.

    “This Administration has a transformational plan to help America’s forgotten students escape failing schools. By expanding education freedom, students can break out of the one-size-fits all system and learn in the ways that will unlock their full potential. They deserve it. Parents demand it. And, it’s the only way to bring about the change our country desperately needs.

    “I want to thank the staff at the National Center for Education Statistics and the members of the National Assessment Governing Board for their work and for their commitment to providing this important assessment of student achievement.”

    2019 Reading Report Card

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