Asra Q. Nomani
FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Sitting in their living rooms, kitchens, and dining rooms on the morning of August 6, principals, teachers, and other leaders from Fairfax County Public Schools here in northern Virginia tuned into an “exclusive” one-hour “conversation” with author Ibram Kendi. The bill: $20,000, or $333.33 per minute of the chat.
Because I was curious what my son’s school district had spent for a one-hour talk by a celebrity author, I broke the news of the price tag for the talk in a column for Quillette last week. Now, in new reporting, I’ve learned the one-hour video conversation was just the tip of the iceberg. According to Fairfax County Public Schools spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell, the school district spent another $24,000 on books by Kendi, peddling the ideology of “critical race theory” and “anti-racism” as “required reading” for K-12 students.
That means Fairfax County spent $44,000 on promoting Kendi for this one event—almost an entire year’s salary for a first-year teacher. Meanwhile, in heartbreaking appeals, two cash-strapped county schoolteachers are soliciting online donations for tools like “Distance Learning Survival Kits” and “Resources for Our Virtual Classroom.” On Sept. 29, the school system’s Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee issued its 26th report, chronicling schools failing black and Hispanic students from kindergarten, and lamenting that it couldn’t even publish its Parent Advocacy Handbook in Spanish because it didn’t get the $50,000 it needed in its budget.
Fairfax County School Board members and the school superintendent, Scott Brabrand, are coming under considerable scrutiny for their relationship with a star of “critical race theory,” but this isn’t the story of just one school district. This scandal speaks volumes about the dangerous and divisive infusion of radical ideology into K-12 education, from New York to California. Weeks ago, I asked parents to send me examples of critical race theory in their K-12 schools, and I’ve been flooded with examples that I’m confirming. (Stay tuned.)
We should all care because there is a lot wrong with “critical race theory.” This past weekend, for example, in a dig at the new Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a white woman who adopted two black children from Haiti, Kendi referred to white parents who adopt black children as “white colonizers.” Born in the 1980s out of Marxism and class warfare, “critical race theory” pits people, including children, against each other, for example forcing students to wear “privilege scorecards” to differentiate themselves from their classmates.
Key to this strategy of indoctrination is getting the books of ideologues into the hands of students as “required reading.” That’s exactly what has happened in Fairfax County in the weeks after Kendi’s $20,000 one-hour “conversation.” The contract that Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau signed with the school district for Kendi’s talk included an important clause—No. 10—simply entitled “Books.”
The contract stated “it is understood” that “the Sponsor,” meaning the Fairfax school district, “will arrange to have the Speaker’s books available for purchase and/or giveaway.” The contract further stated, “Either the Sponsor may purchase copies of the book(s) authored by the Speaker directly from Penguin Random House or from another retailer….”
Sure enough, according to Caldwell, the school district spent about $10,000 buying Kendi’s book, “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” through Amazon, and doled out about $14,000 for his book “Stamped.”
Defending the school board’s decision to book Kendi as a speaker, Caldwell said, “FCPS recently invited Dr. Ibram X. Kendi to speak to school leaders about his book, ‘How to Be an Antiracist,’ as part of the school division’s work to develop a caring culture, one of the goals in the FCPS strategic plan.”
Indeed, a few weeks after Kendi’s hour-long conversation, on September 14, a history teacher at Oakton High School posted a photo on Twitter with neat rows of multiple copies of Kendi’s book, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” with the gushing tweet, “Here they are!”
She wrote: “675 copies of Stamped by @JasonReynolds83 and @DrIbram for every one of our US history students to read this year. So excited for them to explore this powerful book and learn from these incredible voices.”
This example is not to single out a teacher but to highlight a systemic indoctrination of K-12 students with the twisted ideas of “critical race theory.” The day set aside for distributing this school year’s books, parent after parent drove up to Door No. 1 as staff handed books, including Kendi’s “Stamped,” to students.
As a parent of a student at a crosstown school—Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology—I can say that Fairfax County Public Schools officials, including the superintendent and several board members, are using the warped philosophy of “critical race theory” to do the exact opposite of creating a “caring culture.” They actually use black and Hispanic students to put a hit on Asian students.
TJ, as my son’s school is known, was rated the No. 1 high school in America, according to U.S. News and World Report earlier this year, producing the lion’s share of National Merit semi-finalists in Virginia and graduating students who have completed research at levels seen in graduate schools. We are also a “majority-minority” school with about 80 percent of the student body non-white. For critical race theory ideologues, however, we are the wrong kind of minority.
About 70 percent of the school’s student body is Asian American, our families hailing from scores of countries from China to India, speaking many languages at home. Asians have gone from being the “model minority” to becoming the inconvenient minority, defying the logic of “critical race theory” that a system is inherently racist if minorities don’t “succeed.”
We succeed. Thus, in “critical race theory,” we become dismissed as “white adjacent” and whitewashed.
The day after McCormick promoted Kendi’s books, the school board discussed in depth a new “anti-racism” and “anti-bias” curriculum it introduced this year, infused with Kendi’s controversial approach. Then the superintendent introduced a lottery system that earns a resounding “F” from community members, including parents, students, and alumni, to increase the number of black and Hispanic students at TJ.
Our research shows that the biggest winner of the lottery would actually be white students, with only slight increases in the numbers of black and Hispanic students and a decimation of the number of Asian students. To gerrymander racial demographics at the school and dismantle meritocracy as a vestige of “structural racism,” Fairfax County is overlooking essential values of the American Dream, like fairness, hard work, and actual diversity.
Last week, at a town hall meeting where many parents and students couldn’t get through, Brabrand repeated a frequent aspersion he casts on our school, alleging that “students of color” don’t “feel welcome” at TJ, even though most of the school body is in fact “students of color.”
We are on the wrong side of brown for educrats like Brabrand and ideologues like Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times creator of the 1619 Project, often targeting Asians in her critiques as not counting as “people of color.”
The retweets for the teacher’s tweet included @OaktonHS, the official account for Oakton High School, with the message, “Excited to diversify school resources for all students!” Its Instagram account follows Kendi, and that account posted an image with stacks of “Stamped,” sharing that all juniors in U.S. history were getting the book.
One follower asked incredulously: “How did you fund this?”
The answer, of course: taxpayer money. That is why not only parents but also citizens need to watch board meetings, study balance sheets, and file Freedom of Information Act requests with school districts. They are spending our money to indoctrinate, not empower, innocent children. As one teacher said, they are not teaching students how to think but teaching them what to think.
An army of educators, ideologues, consultants, and booksellers have been relentlessly pushing “critical race theory” propagandists, their consulting services, their speeches, and their books. In Fairfax County, teachers are checking in to make sure their students got copies of Kendi’s book, because classroom discussions will soon ramp up. Virginia taxpayers should demand a refund.Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter. She writes a regular newsletter, Asra Investigates, with breaking news and analysis on the frontlines of culture and politics. She is working on a project, chronicling “critical race theory” in K-12 education.