Virginia DOE faces backlash for social-emotional learning proposal: 'Trojan horse' for 'indoctrination'

Critics say it smacks of critical race theory

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The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is encountering pushback for draft social and emotional learning standards that critics suggest are a "Trojan horse" for left-wing ideas about race.

Released at the end of last month, the proposal includes statements that students could presumably make about themselves at certain grade levels. Many of them cover things like "bias" or identities in ways that reflect rhetoric in controversial diversity trainings.

One reads: "I can understand that all my group identities and the intersection of those identities create unique aspects of who I am and influence my decisions."

Another indicates students should be able to "recognize that all people (including myself) have certain advantages and disadvantages in society based on who they are and where they were born."

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The state told Fox News on Tuesday that the standards were being developed in accordance with a bill passed by the Virginia General Assembly and enacted in 2020.

"As stated in the draft standards, the efforts are driven by the commitment to ensure that every student in Virginia attends a school that maximizes their potential and prepares them for the future: academically, socially and emotionally," said VDOE spokesman Charles Pyle.

"As is also required by Virginia law, VDOE is soliciting public comments on these draft standards to help shape the final product."

But Pete Snyder, a Republican running for governor in the state, told Fox News that VDOE was pushing "racist garbage."

"They’re eliminating the words ‘critical race theory’ and still putting this racist garbage in our classrooms," he said. "So, this is like the second morph, evolution of this racist garbage that they’re trying to [put in] our schools." Snyder is pledging to cut funding for school districts that adopt critical race theory.

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Asra Nomani, vice president of strategy and investigations at Parents Defending Education (PDE), worried the standards were yet another way to implement an ideology her organization has been fighting.

"Social and emotional learning is supposed to be a sacred and positive part of a student's development into adulthood," she told Fox News. 

"Instead, in school districts from California to Maine, critical race theory ideologues have hijacked social and emotional learning and turned it into a Trojan horse for their divisive and negative indoctrination. Self-proclaimed 'equity warriors' in Virginia are using social and emotional learning to push students to activism and indoctrinate them with the propaganda of critical race theory, including pushing their ideas about 'equity,' 'unconscious bias' and 'injustice' to promote critical race theory."

Nomani's son attends Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), which is currently embroiled in a lawsuit over an alleged attempt to lower the number of Asians admitted.

The standards have been undergoing a comment period on the state's website since April 26. So far, the comments have been overwhelmingly negative, with titles like "THIS IS CHILD ABUSE," "Propaganda push," "Leave character development to the parents," and simply "NO."

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While most comments have been negative, the proposal has receive some positive reactions. "YES! YES!" one commenter wrote. "I like the initiative for standards. I acknowledge how important it is to teach the students where they are and children today do not all get the foundation of these skills before school."

Another comment titled "GREAT" reads: "This is a great document and something that counseling has been missing for a long time.  I believe the emphasis definitely needs to be proactively teaching these skills. When a child is in the middle of a situation, we all know that learning is near impossible. Also, when implementing this I do believe that many high school students would benefit from starting from the beginning since they may or may not have had this or may need a refresher."

In a statement from the proposal, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane described the standards as part of a redesign of the state's educational vision.

"Virginia is redesigning our vision for the education of its students by providing equity within a safe and healthy learning environment," said Lane.

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"By incorporating social emotional learning into Virginia public education, we are providing students practices ... to ensure readiness for college and workforce. This entails providing every student with the knowledge and skills he or she needs to succeed after graduation. We seek to extend the vision of social emotional learning in early childhood to PK-12, so that all students benefit from a positive, interactive and engaging environment." 

The state did not respond to specific criticisms referenced by Fox News.