Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become a central issue in the Virginia gubernatorial election, which will take place on Tuesday. Republican Glenn Youngkin claims that CRT is being used to indoctrinate K-12 students and has promised to "ban" it as governor. Youngkin also accused his opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, of promoting the teaching of CRT to K-12 students during his previous term as governor. McAuliffe has countered that CRT "is not taught in Virginia and has never been taught in Virginia." He says that Youngkin is simply using CRT as a "racist dog whistle."
Youngkin's closing TV ad claims to contain "newly unearthed documents" which it presents as proof that McAuliffe's administration "actively pushed" K-12 students to be taught CRT. The ad claims that this is an excerpt from "MCAULIFFE'S ACTUAL 2015 TRAINING FOR TEACHERS."
The document was first made public by Chris Rufo, an operative affiliated with the Manhattan Institute, a dark money group responsible for making CRT a top political issue. Rufo claims the document proves that "McAuliffe is lying" by claiming CRT has "never been taught."
But the document has nothing to do with teaching CRT theory to K-12 students in Virginia schools. Rather, it is a presentation delivered as part of a two-day institute, which took place in September 2015, about disciplinary practices in Virginia schools. According to a memo released by the Virginia Department of Education, the "purpose of the institute is to provide alternatives to out-of-school suspensions that will increase positive outcomes for students and create a more engaging climate and culture through a tiered framework." The audience was "school staff who are responsible for school discipline." In other words, the event was not providing direction about the content of curriculum in Virginia schools or what K-12 students should be taught.
The excerpt featured in the Youngkin ad was not a document created by the Virginia Department of Education, but a small part of a presentation given by Dr. Brenda Townsend Walker, a professor at the University of South Florida. Walker's presentation was called "Legal Implications of School Discipline."
In an interview with Popular Information, Walker said that she was disturbed to see Youngkin's ad take a slide from her presentation "out of context" and "twist it around" to represent "a conversation that never happened."
"I was not advocating for teachers to teach Critical Race Theory to students," Walker said of her 2015 presentation. Walker added that she would never suggest K-12 curricula include CRT.
Rather, Walker said that the presentation was designed to educate school administrators about the "disproportionate punishment of African American students," which studies show receive harsher discipline for the same conduct. She was offering CRT as a potential "lens" for adults to understand that phenomenon.
Walker described the use of her presentation in the ad as "mythology" — completely divorced from the reality of her talk.
Youngkin has spent much of the campaign claiming that CRT is taught in "all our schools in Virginia." In August, Politifact evaluated all the evidence that the Youngkin campaign could marshall to support that claim and rated it "FALSE."
Youngkin's closing ad is also based on a false characterization of Walker's presentation. But, as the Washington Post editorial board notes, Youngkin is seeking to use CRT as a "bogeyman to foment racial resentments among the GOP’s heavily White voting base."
There are less than 48 hours until election day and Youngkin is betting that most voters who see his ad will never learn the truth.