This past Thursday evening, former VA Secretary of Education Atif Qarni was joined by State Senators Mamie Locke, Louise Lucas and Ghazala Hashmi, plus Del. Elizabeth Guzman, as part of their “Honest Conversations” series, aimed at “Debunking the lies spread about Virginia Public Education by the right-wing.” The conversation, which was very informative and helpful, lasted about an hour, but due to some technical difficulties, there’s only video for the last 16+ minutes. Fortunately, there’s some great material in there, plus we also have some detailed notes of what was said. So with that, check out the video, and below that the highlights (blue/bolding for emphasis).
Sen. Louise Lucas – We have to wrestle education back from Youngkin. “They always do it on the backs of poor people, Black and Brown children. It goes on and on and on as though there’s no end to all the different kinds of ways they’re trying to divert funds from public education…If these charter schools and these lab schools are so darn good, why don’t we put more money into public education and let ALL children have that same quality of education that they’re talking about?…And that’s to make the wealthy wealthIER.”
“Senator Locke, as you were speaking, what came to mind to me is how incensed I am that the governor trots off to Petersburg and pretends like he cares about Black and Brown people…but yet he takes down the portrait of Barbara Johns out of the Mansion because he doesn’t White kids to come into the Mansion and other folks who feel threatened by people of color to even see the portrait of someone who made the kind of history in Virginia that Barbara Johns did. So when he started trotting off to Petersburg and started talking about the things he was going to do for them, I was so angry I could barely contain myself. And everything he does is…to try to make people think he cares, but all he’s doing is providing cover for himself. If he really cares, why would he take down a portrait of Barbara Johns in the Mansion…Why would he do that? He doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about Black kids, about Black and Brown children, about anybody on this panel tonight who looks like us. It’s just a cover for himself.”
“First of all, the governor does NOT have his children in public schools. But we are NOT going to sit by and see the governor do this. Every day of this next three years, if you feel like three years is going to be a long time for us, it’s going to be a heck of lot longer for him, because we’re going to expose him on every turn; we’re not going to let him get away with anything. And if you go on my Twitter feed, you’ll see that every time he makes a misstep, I call him out on it. And that’s what we have to do, we have to call him out on this nonsense…We are not going to let up.”
Sen. Ghazala Hashmi- Public education is the cornerstone of public good. Currently, teachers are demoralized, concerned about the environment where they work, the “tipline,” etc. And they feel constantly under attack. To have a high-quality education we must pay teachers, use what research works, not use buzzwords like “innovation’. We need to focus on kids, small class size, give kids individual attention. We need to step back from the culture wars.
Who is going to benefit from the 100s of millions of dollars being diverted? “IT’s going to be those corporations, those entities that are promising to set up schools. Well, we already have schools…they are governed by the public…by our public school board officials…by parents and teachers; we have accountability, we have assessment practices. None of that will happen with the diversion of these billions of dollars into the hands of private corporations. We’ve seen that happen in other states. This is the direction that this administration wants to take public education in Virginia. And we have every responsibility to fight back against that.”
“The portrait of Barbara Johns has come down from the walls of the Governor’s Mansion, and if that doesn’t tell us everything then I don’t know what will. That is emblematic of the direction that this governor is trying to take Virginia. And as we have seen, the issue of public education is fraught with the racism that is a part of our history…Now tragically, even though we’ve desegregated ostensibly in Virginia as well as most of the country, we know that the reality is most of our schools continue to be segregated and that’s because our communities, our neighborhoods continue to be segregated. And if we’re going to make progress in this area, our children have to understand that we’re living in complex and a diverse world and they have to be able to work and communicate across culture lines, racial lines, ethnic lines. We have to provide that context in our schools in order to build the kind of communities that we really want to see, not just in Virginia but globally.”
Sen. Mamie Locke – She is a product of an unequal public education school system, but had good teachers. Education is the great equalizer. This is a battle we should not be having to fight. We will not allow whitewashing of the curriculum.
“Just look at the background of those individuals that were recently appointed to the Board of Education. Why are you putting individuals whose backgrounds come out of being a private school board education person, being a member of this private school organization?…I mean, why is it that you’re putting individuals on the Board of Education that monitors PUBLIC education in…Virginia, having these private school backgrounds, which clearly sends a signal…that you’re all about privatizing education in…Virginia.”
“We can’t [accomplish our education goals] if we have an administration that does not believe in diversity, equity and inclusion. And this administration does not believe in DEI. And this administration is bound and determined to turn the clock back in Virginia. And as a consequence, we are not going to get to be the inclusive Commonwealth that we have been working so assiduously towards over the course of the last several years. It is my hope that we can weather this storm that this person [Youngkin] is putting us through, because he’s not even remotely interested in the Commonwealth because he’s running for president and he’s never here. So hopefully, we have enough people out there who can help us be this brick wall to push back on all of this craziness that this administration is trying to do...until such time that we can insure that we can go back to a sense of reasonableness…and provide the diversity and equity that we need for the education of our children.”
Del. Elizabeth Guzman – Youngkin is not here for the students or teachers or most parents. Youngkin made public education “a theme of his campaign,” yet “what he does on Day 1 is try to defund public education.” “…this is temporary; we have three more years to go [of Youngkin], and I know it’s going to be painful and we’re trying to protect all of the accomplishments we have made…He’s tone deaf on the needs of Virginians and what we need in public education…We have one of the best public education systems in the world…and we will fight tooth and nail to protect what we’ve accomplished so far…If he wants to learn him, let’s invite him to raise their children in the public education system, so they can see firsthand the inequalities that we’ve experienced ourselves.”
Points to emphasize in commenting on the History SOL
- We need to honor the constitution – adopt the standards. They must move ahead. Further delay is not necessary or warranted.
- Parents are not a homogeneous group. Youngkin does not listen to the parents who are upset about this.
- History is not static. It is controlled by those in power. We need a broad and inclusive history
- Youngkin is trying to suppress stories. We need to broaden the teaching of history.
- Youngkin is trying to insert his agenda/policies into education.
- The delay in adopting new history SOL standards is about politics – not what is best for students
- Students need to be better critics, not just recite facts.
There is a lot of misinformation and mislabeling.
- How can we counter attacks and keep people from believing the lies?
- We can’t let the lies stand.
- Conversations should be focused on money
- What is the rationale for what they are doing?
- Instead of the public good, they are trying to defund public education for private business/corporation advantages.
Where do we go from here?
- We need a historical perspective
- Kids must know the diverse and complex world to build the communities we want to see.