GOP nominee for Virginia governor airs ad featuring woman who wanted Nobel laureate’s book banned from schools

Glenn Youngkin has joined the Republican crusade against ‘cancel culture’ while also backing calls to have certain books and curriculums cancelled

Andrew Naughtie
Tuesday 26 October 2021 17:36
<p>Republican Glenn Youngkin on the trail in the Virginia gubernatorial campaign</p>

Republican Glenn Youngkin on the trail in the Virginia gubernatorial campaign

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin has put out an ad featuring a woman who fought to give parents greater say over their children’s school reading lists after her son was assigned Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s classic book Beloved.

Laura Murphy was appalled by the book’s content when shown it by her son, then a senior, who deemed it “gross”. In response, she began a years-long campaign for legislation that would oblige English teachers in Virginia to notify parents whenever a work of literature that featured “sexually explicit” content was assigned.

The effort ultimately failed when the law was vetoed by Terry McAuliffe, who is now running against Mr Youngkin to return to the governor’s mansion.

The video produced for Mr Youngkin’s campaign gives Ms Murphy another platform to tell her story.

“As a parent, it’s tough to catch everything,” she says to camera. “So when my son showed me his reading assignment, my heart sunk. It was some of the most explicit material you can imagine.”

A shot shows Ms Murphy anxiously wringing her hands as she describes meeting with lawmakers who “turned bright red with embarrassment” when she showed them what her son was being taught, then passed bipartisan legislation “requiring schools to notify parents when explicit content was assigned”.

As Ms Murphy relates, that legislation was twice vetoed by then-governor Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat now running against Mr Youngkin for another term. “He doesn’t think parents should have a say!” she warns. “He said that! He shut us out!”

What Ms Murphy is referring to is a recent incident in which Mr McAuliffe defended his veto of the bill she backed by saying “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach”. He later said the comment had been taken out of context, and was made in the course of an exchange about bullying and political activism directed at school boards.

The legislation Ms Murphy backed did indeed pass the legislature in 2016 before being vetoed by Mr McAuliffe. In his explanation, the then-governor noted that “open communication between parents and teachers is important, and school systems have an obligation to provide age-appropriate material for students.

“However, this legislation lacks flexibility and would require the label of ‘sexually explicit’ to apply to an artistic work based on a single scene, without further context. Numerous educators, librarians, students, and others involved in the teaching process have expressed their concerns about the real-life consequences of this legislation’s requirements.”

The move was also rejected by the state board of education, with teachers warning that the definition of “explicit” was so open to interpretation that few classic texts would be left untouched.

Mr Youngkin, who has been endorsed by Donald Trump, has many times railed against “cancel culture”, a cause lately picked up by Republicans across the country as they seek to portray the left as aggressively censorious and intolerant.

Earlier this year, he took up the cause of defending Dr Seuss after it was announced a handful of the author’s books would no longer be printed because of their explicitly racist content. At an event in March, he insisted he would stop the “craziness” of Dr Seuss’s books being banned in the state’s largest school district, though such a ban was never in fact imposed.

More recently, Mr Youngkin has defended the highly aggressive tactics of right-wing activists appearing at school board meetings across the US to harangue teachers and officials, performances that often include deranged conspiracy theories, false claims and threats of violence. (Many of those attending these meetings as activists are not in fact local parents.)

He has also campaigned on many false claims about education in his state, including the notion that many Virginia schools are teaching critical race theory (they are not), that Virginian children lag behind on basic standards in various subjects (they do not), and that Mr McAuliffe asked the Biden administration to send in federal authorities to stop conservative parents raising concerns about their children’s schooling (he did not).

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