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Video: Gov. Northam’s Secretary of Education, Atif Qarni, Says “CRT” Is “Manufactured…[by] a group in America that’s really fearful of the change that’s happening and really resisting it”

"The biggest threat to America right now is nothing external. It's internal. It's the hate, the vitriol, that has built up in one part of America, that's been propagated through Fox News and so forth."

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See below for video of/highlights from a forum last week put on by the Prince William Committee of 100, the topic of discussion being “Critical Race Theory.” Leading off the discussion was Atif Qarni, who was Virginia Secretary of Education during Gov. Ralph Northam’s four years in office. According to former Secretary Qarni (see the full transcript below the video):

  • Are we talking about external forces who are imposing this conversation of CRT? So I think we’re asking the wrong question.”
  • “…it’s been my dream for 10 years of teaching and four years of Secretary of Education that families will finally wake up and start paying attention to education, but I did not imagine that they would do it in this way, in this manufactured crisis of CRT.  It’s really really unfortunate.”
  • After real careful reflection about talking to a lot of folks, especially who are so worked up about whether CRT is being taught in schools and so forth, it’s really difficult to have conversations about something that’s really manufactured. It’s like talking to people who say, well, elves and unicorns exist, but we really don’t have any evidence of it.”
  • “…we’re seeing these mini insurrections of sorts in school boards play out across the country, where people are going and yelling and screaming and threatening school board members”
  • our country, our state, our county of Prince William is dramatically different than it was ten years ago or five years ago…There are many marginalized groups who did not have fair treatment, they’re finally getting fair treatment because they’re demanding it…And I feel like that there’s a group in America that’s really fearful of the change that’s happening and really resisting it…this is nothing new, nothing unique to this era, it’s just a different iteration of what’s happened in the past.”
  • “I did feel that because there were not a lot of Black and Brown people that I could be more successful politically [in the Republican Party]. But I didn’t want to sell my soul to the devil.”
  • The biggest threat to America right now is nothing external. It’s internal. It’s the hate, the vitriol, that has built up in one part of America, that’s been propagated through Fox News and so forth.”
  • “…this whole thing with critical race theory, is it impacting our schools? Externally, it definitely is. Those people like who manufactured this crisis have made that clear. They’re talking to their children about this and children are coming in confused or they’re coming in and they’re being brainwashed at home and coming in and bullying.

 

“I know the topic is how is well, CRT impacting our school systems, and that’s a loaded question because are we talking about what happens internally within the school division or state policies? Are we talking about external forces who are imposing this conversation of CRT? So I think we’re asking the wrong question.

Some of the things that have been on my mind in the last four years, when I served as Secretary of Education, and in the last four months since I’ve been in another role…I’ve had a lot of conversations with multiple people on both political parties  -independents, very different perspectives about this topic. Unfortunately, I mean, I have not been invited to speak about free community college or mental health issues or teacher salaries or even COVID, but I get dozens of invites just like this, and a lot of interview requests and I’ve interviewed with Kate multiple times about CRT. So it’s been my dream for 10 years of teaching and four years of Secretary of Education that families will finally wake up and start paying attention to education, but I did not imagine that they would do it in this way, in this manufactured crisis of CRT.  It’s really really unfortunate.

So there are three things I want to highlight in my presentation. After real careful reflection about talking to a lot of folks, especially who are so worked up about whether CRT is being taught in schools and so forth, it’s really difficult to have conversations about something that’s really manufactured. It’s like talking to people who say well elves and unicorns exist, but we really don’t have any evidence of it. I don’t mean to sound mean, but that’s how I really feel.

The second thing I’ve also heard is we’re seeing these mini insurrections of sorts in school boards play out across the country, where people are going and yelling and screaming and threatening school board members, threatening superintendents, threatening educators, asking for recalls and firing and so forth. They’re also using terms like socialists and communists and so forth. And I’ve asked folks, we in our curriculum teach about socialism and communism, we even teach about Nazi Germany. And those are really problematic things. As Americans…the majority of Americans don’t believe in communism and socialism, we really resist that. So why is there no conversation about taking that out of the curriculum?

So that’s the thing is that some of the questions that come in my mind. And the conclusion that I come up with and it might not be as simple as this, it’s probably more complex and nuanced, but in my observation is that our country, our state, our county of Prince William is dramatically different than it was ten years ago or five years ago. I lived in Prince William before coming into my position for 15 years, I saw the changes…it is becoming more and more diverse. There are many marginalized groups who did not have fair treatment, they’re finally getting fair treatment because they’re demanding it, whether it’s Black or Brown people, whether it’s immigrants, whether it’s different religious groups, whether it’s gay or lesbian or trans people.

And I feel like that there’s a group in America that’s really fearful of the change that’s happening and really resisting it. And I try to look at everything from a historical lens and try to understand it. And I feel like this is nothing new, nothing unique to this era, it’s just a different iteration of what’s happened in the past. And some folks will argue, well it’s not a thing just about – and I think this is beyond just White or Black or gender and so forth – some people will say, well you know…there are people of color who…are also stepping up. And we have elected officials and active voices saying well CRT, they’re blaming CRT for other things, and they’re really speaking loudly as well.

And the reason I bring that up is because I’m looking at things through a historical context – and I was born in Pakistan and grew up in a family that’s very cognizant of the colonial rule – and there were folks when the British empire was expanding, these rajas and maharajas who sold out – and because of their self-interest they did not care about the greater good to advance their own self-interest they caved in to the people who were in power. And I think this is what’s happening in America.

My father and uncle are Republicans. And I don’t want to make this about Democrats or Republicans, but they were very disappointed many years ago when I decided to get involved in civic engagement and I did it through the Democratic Party. And they called their friends in Prince William and tried to talk me out of it. As a matter of fact, elected officials who were Republicans said hey Atif, you know you’re a veteran, you’re a teacher, you’re Muslim, your community is big on conservative values, join our party. And I did feel that because there were not a lot of Black and Brown people that I could be more successful politically [in the Republican Party]. But I didn’t want to sell my soul to the devil.

This is a problem right now in America. The biggest threat to America right now is nothing external. It’s internal. It’s the hate, the vitriol, that has built up in one part of America, that’s been propagated through Fox News and so forth. And it’s rotten to the core in one party. And I don’t want to make this about Democrats or Republicans; I have significant issues with the Democratic Party as well; I’ve stood up to a lot of problems. But we cannot just push our problems under the rug. We have systemic oppression, inequality and unfair systems. And we cannot continue to ignore them.

So this whole thing with critical race theory, is it impacting our schools? Externally, it definitely is. Those people like who manufactured this crisis have made that clear. They’re talking to their children about this and children are coming in confused or they’re coming in and they’re being brainwashed at home and coming in and bullying. I can tell you in Prince William County right now, there are Black and Brown children who are bullied. There are gay, lesbian, trans kids who are bullied because of the nonsense they hear outside. That’s why we need to address these issues collectively as a community in a thoughtful way. And whenever people try to do that, they’re resistant to that, they’re resistant to change. So that’s the problem.”

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