Home Education Audio: Former VA Secretary of Education Atif Qarni Rips Time Magazine “Nonsense...

Audio: Former VA Secretary of Education Atif Qarni Rips Time Magazine “Nonsense and Baloney” Article on Youngkin; Says Teachers Are “Angry,” “Worried,” “Hate the Youngkin Administration” for Creating a “Toxic Environment”

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On Friday, July 1, I had a chance to catch up with former Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, and given all that’s happened the past few weeks (see Video: Virginia House, Senate Democrats Condemn Governor Youngkin’s “Totalitarian” Attacks on the Virginia Community College System BoardYoungkin appoints opponent of admissions changes at TJ to Va. Board of Education; and also Molly Ball Pens the Most Pathetically Bad Article Ever Written About Glenn Youngkin?, which makes some crazy assertions about Youngkin’s education record), we had a lot to talk about! I’m going to break the interview up into three parts over the holiday weekend: 1) Saturday, what Atif Qarni had to say about Youngkin’s appointments to the Virginia Board of Education (including being “pleasantly surprised” at a couple, but also appalled at one of them, and noting that Youngkin is a “racist” and “bigot”); 2) Sunday, what Qarni thinks about Youngkin’s assault on the community college system; 3) today, July 4th, Qarni weighs in on the bizarre/false/etc. profile of Youngkin by “journalist” Molly Ball in Time Magazine. Enjoy!

Blue Virginia: “You talk to teachers I’m sure and others in the school system, but do you think that ‘tip line’ has had a chilling effect in any way? Or is Molly Ball right that it’s really that there was a lot of uproar about it, but it has not led to teachers feeling intimidated or feeling like they can’t teach what…they think they should teach? Or they feel like they have to leave…the public schools….or do you think it’s too early to tell on that?”

Qarni: “I think when it comes to governors or…high-profile leaders, if you get an exclusive with them you have to put it from their angle where Molly Ball…you know, journalism is a business too, right? So Molly’s like look, I’m getting an exclusive, I’m going to cooperate with the communications team of Governor Youngkin and water it down or twist it in a way so it makes him look good. You know he doesn’t give a damn about how teachers are impacted or whether it’s the honest truth or facts. I mean, it’s total nonsense and baloney.”

Qarni: “But the fact is you know, [Youngkin] did create this very McCarthy-like atmosphere. It’s really suffocating. I have so many teacher friends, especially in history and social studies, who were really concerned that when the tip line went up is that look, am I going to say something incorrect that I might get fired and so forth? And had there not been a lot of pushback on the tip line I think Youngkin would have continued to be more aggressive. I think it backfired and a lot of people spoke up against it. But this twist of that, the perspective that Molly’s presented is completely biased, jaded and inaccurate.

Blue Virginia: “I mean, damage has been done is what you’re saying, I think is what I’m hearing.”

Qarni: “Yeah, damage has been done, oh absolutely absolutely, it has been. And I was actually just…hanging out…with a couple of my teacher friends…and they’re very frustrated and they’re all like thinking about leaving the profession because they just can’t…teachers do not feel…they said that they felt protected under Governor Northam’s leadership, they felt protected when I was there…[Now] they feel like there’s an attack on education, an attack on them. They’re having serious conversations with their significant others about leaving the profession. It’s anecdotal, but I…know of dozens of teachers and they’re all saying like the same thing.”

Blue Virginia: “Molly Ball also claims in that article that the state’s history curriculum ‘continues to include robust discussion of Virginia’s indigenous history slavery and its role in causing the civil war, the civil rights movement and racism in America’. I mean, again like that might still be the case, but I don’t know, you tell me – a) is that still the case and b) is it way too early to be drawing conclusions after Youngkin has only been in office a few months after eight years of Democrats as governor. Like now, a few months into Youngkin’s administration, we’re already concluding that all is well, don’t worry, we’re still going to have plenty of robust discussion of the history of race and civil rights, the civil war, and there’s no McCarthyism. I mean, that’s basically what this article is saying.”

Qarni: “So I’m going to ask a rhetorical question. If I’m looking at things objectively, should I listen to Molly Ball, who has no probably no expertise in history and curriculum, or should I listen to about 40 historians who got together in the history education commission and looked at our standards and said hey, it’s really really bad, it’s lacking and we need to fix it? And these are national renowned historians from across America and across Virginia…professor after professor after professor and all these historians collectively said hey we need to fix our Virginia history and curriculum. So should I listen to them or should I listen to Molly Ball?”

Blue Virginia: “This is in Time magazine, it’s not like a minor publication, a lot of people are gonna read this.”

Qarni: “You know, the standards of journalism are so bad right now, I mean and it’s just getting worse…”

Blue Virginia: “The fact that they would publish this; it’s filled with statements that are, I mean, even if you’re trying to make Youngkin look good this is just false, right?  I mean…I just don’t understand how you can just blow off like the concerns about the teaching of history, of all of our history, that’s been a major focus of the first few months, major controversy the first few months. And the way this article is written, it was like no no problem whatsoever, you know everything’s fine, history teaching’s great, it continues to be robust. So whether it’s Molly Ball or whoever, I just don’t understand how…I’m just worried that…people are going to read this and think oh well see, I mean, all those liberals are overreacting or whatever.”

Qarni: “I mean, you know, so I’ll know in the future never to take an interview from a Molly Ball or any future governor [take an interview with Molly Ball], because obviously this person is coming to asinine conclusions. But they obviously didn’t do their research and they’re probably just like doing this puff piece to appease the Youngkin team that…we’ll negotiate and do a really puff piece. But it’s just false….”

Qarni: “The revisions [to history teaching standards] that we did are robust. Now are they going to get implemented under this new board of education with fidelity or not, that’s a big if. That’s the thing, are they going to go and try to create roadblocks so they don’t get implemented. There is a report that one of the foundations is looking at…they’re looking to see how does because they know that all all this great work happened with the history standards in Virginia, but are they truly going to get implemented in the next two academic years or not?”

Blue Virginia: “She also wrote that Youngkin has ‘kept up the emphasis on education’ – I mean that’s kind of a vague statement to make there, I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean; yeah he’s talked about a lot about education but in a very mostly attacking public education as far as I can tell. And she said he’s ‘rooting out critical race theory’. We’ve talked about this before, that’s not taught in Virginia, so there’s nothing to root out, right? So I don’t understand that one. And ‘while simultaneously increasing funding and teacher pay’…I mean, Northam’s budget proposed major increases, right, the final budget in the Northam administration?”

Qarni: “So Governor Youngkin hasn’t put in a new budget, that will come out in December, his first actual budget, the biennium budget, what 2023/2024 will look like.  He inherited Governor Northam’s budget which carries over the teacher raises, that is correct. He didn’t mess with the teacher raises. He did mess with I think a little bit of HBCU money and so forth. But there were no significant cuts. But also keep in mind that  the Senate is controlled by Democrats, so they probably would not allow those.”

Blue Virginia: “Exactly, [Democrats] weren’t going to allow it. So why is she giving him credit… for increasing funding and teacher pay? Doesn’t that credit belong to Gov. Northam?”

Qarni: “Yeah, under Gov. Northam, salary increases, there was five percent done each of the four years, equivalent of 20 percent. I guess the question honestly, I personally don’t care who gets credit as long as teachers get the money. If they want to give Governor Youngkin credit for another five percent, that’s fine, I mean he didn’t he didn’t cut it, so you can say oh good job, you didn’t cut the funding…as long as teachers benefit. But regardless of these salary increases, teachers are still not happy…We were digging ourselves out from a deep hole anyway. So we’re nowhere near the national average, but we’re getting there. But it’s not just about salary increases, I think that’s a big component of it. But it’s also about the culture of education. And right now the biggest problem that collectively a lot of teachers have is that they feel like they’re under attack and they don’t want to teach in a toxic environment, and Youngkin has created that environment…They hate the Youngkin administration. I have not heard a single educator – and I mean my educator friends are from both political parties – say anything positive about Youngkin, because they’re truly truly truly angry and worried…A lot of the teachers I know, they’re not politically active, that’s the thing. There’s this misconception…[In fact], the vast majority of the teachers I know, I don’t know which way they’re voting right…they’re education professionals…they’re just working, they’re just doing their job.”

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