Northam’s DOE to VA Schools: No “American Exceptionalism” on 9/11

Parents Defending Education, a national grassroots organization, is blowing the whistle on the Virginia Department of Education’s recent lecture for teachers on 9/11 lesson plans:

On Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, the Virginia Department of Education posted a webinar in which a speaker trains teachers not to discuss Islamic extremism or “American exceptionalism” while teaching about the 9/11 attacks, guiding them instead to focus on “anti-Muslim racism.”

Parents in Virginia shared the video with Parents Defending Education, expressing deep concern about the revision of historical facts in the lesson guidelines and the insensitivity of the speaker and the state agency to the trauma and facts of the 9/11 attacks.

In the opening moments of the video, the speaker, Amaarah DeCuir, a professorial lecturer at American University, says that her recommendations “don’t reflect the views and opinions” of the state agency. She describes herself as president of Paragon Education Consulting LLC, which she registered as a limited liability corporation with the Virginia Secretary of State in early January 2017. DeCuir’s husband is Mohamed Maajid, the imam, or prayer leader, at All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center, and she has been a regular speaker with Muslim organizations, including the Islamic Circle of North America, which have circulated ideas similar to the ones she recommended.

However, earlier this year Virginia Governor Northam announced that she is a member of the state’s Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices Advisory Committee. Also, the state education agency’s communications officials posted the video, titled, “Culturally Responsive and Inclusive 9/11 Commemoration,” on the agency’s official YouTube channel, and it features the Virginia Department of Education “EdEquity VA” logo and name on its first slide, with each slide in the presentation carrying the agency’s official logo. The agency is advertising the video as part of its “EdEquity VA” webinar series. In addition, DeCuir thanked Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni for his support. She said she presented him with her recommendations before presenting the remarks to the public.

In the video, DeCuir provides instructions to teachers teaching about the 9/11 attacks and says they should not teach “a false assumption of Muslim responsibility for 9/11.”

  • She says: “It’s going to be important as we begin to plan our 9/11 lessons in a way that does not seek to reproduce anti-Muslim racism.”
  • She notes: “We’re not going to reproduce a false assumption of Muslim responsibility for 9/11. We’re just going to begin right there and name that there is no responsibility and therefore we’re not going to use this space to try and untangle this.”

She says that teachers should not teach the idea of “American exceptionalism.”

  • “We’re also not going to reproduce what’s understood as American exceptionalism — this understanding that America is a land at the top of a beautiful mountain and that all other countries, nations, and people are less than America,” she says.
  • “We’re not going to reproduce notions that American history and American experiences are more significant than the experiences or histories of other people,” she said. “So we’re going to begin with a common understanding of our shared humanity, regardless of our national, racial, linguistic or religious origins.”

The speaker told teachers to use the word “extremists” and not “terrorists” in discussing the attacks.

  • She says: “Do not use this day to amplify the extremists themselves and don’t use the day to amplify their acts on 9/11. You name what happened and that’s it,” she added.
  • She notes: “I choose to use the word extremists and I use this based on the scholarship of other scholars and activists in the community that will also use this word to describe the perpetrators of the crimes associated with 9/11.”

On Aug. 31, 2021, the Virginia Department of Education released a statement that said:

“This webinar was part of a series intended to help teachers create welcoming and affirming classrooms for all students and in this specific case to provide support to Muslim students, who may be subject to bullying around the anniversary of 9/11,” Executive Director of Communications Ken Blackstone said. “As stated in the presentation, the speaker made it clear that her views and opinions do not reflect the views and opinions of the VDOE. As such, any statements made in the webinar are not to be attributed to the Virginia Department of Education.”

Two days later, on Sept. 1, 2021, amid criticism from around the world, the Virginia Department of Education quietly removed the video from its official YouTube channel, without explanation.

Parents Defending Education will investigate how the production of this video was funded and how these teaching points were approved by the Virginia Department of Education.

Through Aug. 30, 2021, the speaker promoted her recommendations on Twitter at this link: https://twitter.com/amaarah_decuir/status/1428101434151686152. Then, as of Sept. 2, 2021, she made her Twitter account private. The Twitter account is at this link: https://twitter.com/amaarah_decuir.

This investigative report was originally published at DefendingEd.org.

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