Virginia Voters, Beware the Weaponization of Teachers

In the educational wars occurring throughout the country, most of the conservative commentary has focused on two parties: children and parents. This is because states and school districts are treating children not as individual human beings but as lumps of clay to be fashioned into the image of the State. Instead of teaching children to think critically and developing their individual gifts, public schools are indoctrinating children in leftist ideology, seeking to destroy their individual identities and reconstruct them into a homogenized group of progressives.

Similarly, many states and districts have begun implementing policies that run roughshod over parental authority. Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe recently affirmed these ideas when he declared that parents should have no right to tell schools what their own children are taught. All liberty-loving Americans must continue to resist these totalitarian efforts wherever they might be found, and Virginians certainly should consider them when they vote in a few short weeks.

But in our resistance to tyranny, we cannot forget the other pawn in the left’s war to transform the nation: teachers. While many teachers are all too willing to swear fealty to the radical left and be used as mouthpieces of the state, many more are being conscripted against their will. This is totalitarianism 101, and we must not stand for it.

Mandating a uniform, ideological curriculum is an effective tool for indoctrination, but its effect is severely limited if teachers don’t believe it themselves or simply refuse to implement it. For this reason, all totalitarian states mandate ideological conformity among and place strict controls on teachers. In Nazi Germany, for example, Hitler systematically trained teachers to propagate Nazi ideology. In charge of this task was his National Socialist Teacher’s League (NSLT). First, the NSLT examined all teachers to ensure their loyalty to the Nazi party. Those who were not loyal were discarded, as were Jews and anyone else deemed “unreliable.” The NSLT was also commissioned to “ensure the ideological indoctrination of teachers.” All teachers were required to be trained in Nazi ideology -- including racial knowledge regarding the “supremacy of the Nordic race… and the characteristics of the Jewish race.” A key component of the training required teachers to attend two-week camps where they were forced to read and embrace Mein Kampf.

These types of training programs and ideological oath tests are anathema to our constitutional order. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that teachers have First Amendment rights. Indeed, if teachers lacked these protections, the government “would wield alarming power to compel ideological conformity.” As “nurseries of democracy,” as the Supreme Court called them, America’s public schools must be a place where the full “marketplace of ideas” -- including unpopular ones -- is protected. Therefore, the state has no power to compel a teacher to affirm an ideology with which they disagree, because “[c]ompelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates [the] cardinal constitutional command” against “forc[ing] citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

These principles were on full display in a 1952 case where the Supreme Court struck down an Oklahoma statute that required all public employees, including teachers, to swear an oath of loyalty that they were not affiliated with any “subversive” or “Communist-front” organizations. Justice Hugo Black, in his concurring opinion, called the loyalty statute at issue “but one manifestation of a national network of laws aimed at coercing and controlling the minds of men” and remarked that “[t]est oaths” designed to “shackle the mind” are “notorious tools of tyranny” that are “unspeakably odious to a free people.” Justice Felix Frankfurter specifically commented on the dangers of mandating ideological conformity among teachers, noting that teachers are “priests of our democracy,” whose job it is to “foster those habits of open-mindedness and critical inquiry which alone make for responsible citizens, who, in turn, make possible an enlightened and effective public opinion.”

Accordingly, the Constitution prohibits the government from imposing totalitarian-style controls on public-school teachers. And for good reason. I had many excellent teachers at my almost 3,000-student public high school. But my favorite was undoubtedly my Government/Economics teacher. She was a gifted communicator, was passionate about the subject matter, and asked poignant questions that taught me to think critically. Towards the end of the course, I realized that we didn’t see eye-to-eye on politics. But that didn’t matter to her, as she never attempted to impose her beliefs on any of her students. Rather, she challenged and encouraged me -- a 17-year-old budding conservative -- and instilled in me a love of government and economics. She knew her job wasn’t to tell me what to think but to teach me how to think and encourage my own beliefs and goals. She also taught me an incredibly important lesson: that despite our political differences, we could love and respect one another and still both love this great country that is the United States of America.

Despite these well-formed constitutional principles, Terry McAuliffe’s own Democrat party is ignoring them. Based on a law passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 2020, all Virginia schools are obligated to implement comprehensive gender identity ideology training for all teachers and “staff with opportunities to interact with students.” The “culturally affirming, accessible LGBTQ+ competency training” must include topics like “Key LGBTQ+ terminology and the use of unbiased language to promote equality and justice for LGBTQ+ students” and applicable laws and students’ rights that prohibit “unauthorized disclosures to peers, parents, school staff, and other third parties.”

In many VA school districts, the mandatory training and compelled ideological assent have extended to critical race theory. In Loudoun County, for example, teachers are forced to undergo “equity training” whereby they are taught as fact, among other things, that America is irredeemably and systematically racist and that white people are oppressors solely by virtue of their skin color. They are also instructed to assist in “dismantling and disrupti[ng]” white supremacy in the classroom and implement “equitable” discipline policies to ensure that minority students are not disproportionately disciplined, regardless of individual behavior.

Laura Morris, a Loudoun County Public School teacher, resigned from her job at a school board meeting this past August after the mandatory “equity training” program told her that as a “white, Christian, able-bodied female[],” she had all “the power” in the school, and this would “ha[ve] to change.” According to Morris, the superintendent told her that expressing disagreement regarding the equity training “is not allowed” and that the superintendent even “sen[t] a form to my colleagues and I, encouraging us to fill it out if we hear one another speaking against the controversial policies being promoted by this school board.”

Other Virginia teachers have been fired for refusing to speak what they believe to be lies. For example, Loudoun County physical-education teacher Tanner Cross was fired after he spoke out at a school board meeting in response to Loudoun County’s gender identity policy, saying that he “will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it’s against my religion. It’s lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child, and it’s sinning against our God.”

All of these policies are present-day, living embodiments of totalitarianism, and they should have no place in our country -- and certainly no place in the great Commonwealth of Virginia. Yet somehow they have already taken root, which is why this Virginia governor’s race is so important. Based on Terry McAuliffe’s repeated statements, he undoubtedly believes in this type of educational philosophy and will only expand it further by imposing more controls on our teachers. If McAuliffe isn’t defeated in the upcoming election, totalitarianism’s roots might grow too deep to uproot.  

S. Ernie Walton is an Assistant Professor at Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, VA. His latest article, Gender Identity Ideology: The Totalitarian, Unconstitutional Takeover of America’s Public Schools, will be published in the Regent University Law Review this winter. The views expressed in this article represent his individual views and not necessarily those of Regent University.

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