In the final gubernatorial debate between Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe on September 28, McAuliffe said something truly shocking: “I’m not gonna let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions.” McAuliffe was likely referencing the situation in Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, which were forced to pull two books, “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy,” after explicit material was revealed by the mother of one of the students during a school board meeting. When pressed the next day whether he meant what he said, McAuliffe doubled down: “Listen, we have a Board of Education working with the local school boards to determine the curriculum for our schools. You don’t want parents coming in every different school jurisdiction saying this is what should be taught here, and this is what should be taught there.”
McAuliffe’s comments should terrify all Virginia voters. In short, his statements embody two fundamental tenets of totalitarianism: that children belong to the state, not parents, and that public education is not actually about educating children, but indoctrinating and molding them into uniform, standardized citizens that will serve the state’s ends. From time immemorial, totalitarian states have understood that the best means to attain complete control of society was to control the education system. When parents are free to direct their children’s upbringing and education, whether directly through home education or indirectly through delegation to a third party of their choice, totalitarian governments are rendered impotent to implement their ideology. Totalitarian regimes know this, and for this reason one of the first things every totalitarian state has done after seizing power is take complete control of the educational system.
Sparta was a totalitarian state whose singular goal was the use of warfare for world domination and self-preservation. To accomplish this goal, Spartan institutions were designed to “submerge the individual and develop ideal citizens” through an intentional, systematic process of homogenization. The chief institution for creating the perfect Spartan was the educational system called the “Agoge.” The Agoge’s goal: “prepare Spartan males to be compliant members of society, who were ready to sacrifice their all for Sparta.” While formal training did not begin until age seven, the Agoge officially started shortly after birth. According to Greek historian Plutarch, Spartan “elders” evaluated male infants after birth. Those who were “well-built and sturdy” were permitted to live; children who were deemed “ill-born and deformed” were sent to a “chasm-like place at the foot of Mount Taygetus” to die. Parents had no say in the matter.
Like the Spartans before them, the Soviet Union was a totalitarian state whose singular goal was the worldwide spread of communism. According to the Soviet education minister, education was the primary “weapon” by which the Party would “reform” society “in the spirit of Communism” and implement a “cultural revolution” that would create “a new man, free from the slavish psychology of capitalist society.” It was no surprise, then, that immediately following the Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin’s newly created People’s Commissariat of Education, led by Marxist philosopher and literary figure Anatoly Lunacharsky, nationalized all educational institutions and stripped parents and the Orthodox Church of all authority to educate children. Education at state-controlled schools was made compulsory for children ages eight through seventeen, although nurseries for infants aged two-and-a half months to three years old and pre-schools for children ages three through seven were established beginning in 1919. The single most important principle underlying the entire curriculum was the “unity of school and politics.” As Marxism is “is an all-embracing philosophy” that governed all of Soviet life, the Soviets designed the education system to indoctrinate children with the communist worldview.
Like the Spartans and the Soviets, Hitler knew that the best way of creating his Third Reich was through the systematic indoctrination of children. According to Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda, the Nazi education enterprise was a “kneading machine, which processes raw human material into a ‘coherent mass’ capable of being ‘utilized and manipulated for the political aims of the state.’” Nazi Curriculum was therefore constructed with the singular aim of destroying the individual and transforming children into committed National Socialists that would serve the German state. All textbooks were reviewed, old ones discarded, and new ones introduced that would “serve the ideological education of young German people, so as to develop them into fit members of the national community — members who are ready to serve and to sacrifice.” To implement this agenda, the Nazi party removed all authority over education from the German states, known as Lander, and centralized all control over education in the federal government. Old principles of “self-administration” of schools — whereby schools were led by parents, teachers, and the headmaster together — were jettisoned in favor of rule by the headteachers. And the Nazi National School Law officially abolished private schools and made attendance at state-run elementary schools compulsory beginning at age six.
The heart of totalitarian education, then, is removing children from the influence of their parents and indoctrinating them in the state’s preferred ideology. Not so in the United States. In the American constitutional order, children belong to parents, and parents have the right and duty to direct their children’s moral formation and overall education. The Supreme Court, in holding that Amish parents had the right to refuse to send their older children to public school in defiance of a compulsory education law, stated that “[t]he history and culture of Western civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children. This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition.” Given the primacy of the parent-child relationship in American constitutional law, parents, not the state, have the duty and right to direct and control their children’s education. The Court first recognized the educational right in 1925 in Meyer v. Nebraska. There the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “liberty” afforded parents the right to direct how and where their children were educated, including sending their children to private school and receiving instruction in a foreign language. Two years later, in Pierce v. Society of the Sisters, the Court relied on Meyer to strike down an Oregon law that required children to attend public school. The court held that “the Act of 1922 unreasonably interfere[d] with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.” The Court even went so far as to repudiate the totalitarian idea that children belong the state, noting that “[t]he child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”
Despite these established principles, Terry McAuliffe apparently believes the opposite. Instead of parents directing their children’s education, McAuliffe believes that children belong to state and should be subjected to whatever the state thinks they should be taught. Think this is an overstatement? It isn’t. McAuliffe’s statements must be read in light of the current educational context in Virginia. First, Virginia schools across the state are indoctrinating students in gender identity ideology and critical race theory. Consider the ongoing saga in Loudon County. In response to the school board’s adoption of curriculum rooted in critical race theory, a Chinese-American mother stated this:
You are now teaching, training our children to be social justice warriors and to loathe our country and our history. Growing up in Mao’s China, the communist regime used the same critical theory to divide people. The only difference was they used class instead of race. During the cultural revolution, we witness[ed] students and teachers turned against each other, we changed the school names to be politically correct. We were taught to denounce our heritage, and Red Guards destroyed anything that is not communist … statues, books and anything else. We were also encouraged to report on each other, just like the Student Equity Ambassador program and the bias reporting system. This is indeed the American version of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The critical race theory has its roots in cultural Marxism. It should have no place in our school.
But not only are Virginia schools imposing ideological curriculum on children against the wishes of parents, the entire state of Virginia — led by McAuliffe’s own Democratic party — is deliberately preventing parents from knowing their own children’s “declared” gender identity — while actively facilitating the opportunity for the child to live out their new gender identity at school. Pursuant to a 2020 law, the Virginia State Board of Education published the “Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools.” Every school board in Virginia is mandated to adopt policies that are consistent with the model policy.
Among other things, the model policy mandates that all Virginia schools “accept a student’s assertion of their gender identity without requiring any particular substantiating evidence.” This includes the obligation to use a students’ preferred pronouns, allowing students to dress in accordance with their gender identity, eliminating gender-based events and activities,” allowing students to use the restroom and locker room that corresponds to their gender identity, and more.
More shocking, however, is how the policy treats parents. Instead of obligating districts to disclose their children’s gender choices to the parents, the policy does the exact opposite. The Policy makes clear that “[t]here are no regulations requiring school staff to notify a parent or guardian of a student’s request to affirm their gender identity.…” In fact, citing the “imminent safety risks” that disclosure to unsupportive families can pose to transgender students, the model policy counsels against notifying parents when their children “change” their gender identity, stating that “[i]f a student is not ready or able to safely share with their family about their gender identity, this should be respected.” Elsewhere the policy is more explicit: “Regardless of the circumstances, the school should support the student’s need for privacy and safety and not disclose a student’s gender identity to other students or other parents.”
With all that is happening in Virginia schools — from indoctrination in critical race theory to hiding children’s gender choices from their parents — there is only one logical conclusion that voters can draw: Terry McAuliffe supports these policies and believes that children belong to the government and the government, not the parents, has the exclusive prerogative to indoctrinate children in whatever ideology it deems best. This is not only unconstitutional — it is extremely dangerous. As history has shown, when parents have no say over what their own children are taught, totalitarianism’s roots grow deep.
So I ask, fellow Virginians, can we really afford to elect someone who holds these beliefs? Or will we wake up and see the totalitarian impulses that lie beneath Terry McAuliffe’s statements?
Ernie Walton is an Assistant Professor at Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Virginia. 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.
 Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923).
 Patrick Kiger, How Ancient Sparta’s Harsh Military System Trained Boys Into Fierce Warriors, History.com (Sept. 8, 2020), https://www.history.com/news/sparta-warriors-training.
 Joseph I Zajda, Education in the USSR 11 (1980).
 Id. at 17.
 Id. at 10.
 Lisa Pine, Education in Nazi Germany 41 (2010).
 Id. at 42.
 Id. at 27.
 Id. at 28.
 Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 232 (1972).
 Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 400 (1923).
 Pierce v. Soc’y of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925).
 Id. at 534–35.
 Id. at 535.
 Tyler Stone, Chinese Mother to VA School Board: Critical Race Theory Reminds Me Of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Real Clear Politics (June 11, 2021), https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2021/06/11/chinese_mother_to_va_school_board_critical_race_theory_reminds_me_of_maos_cultural_revolution.html.
 VA Code § 22.1-23.3(A).
 See generally Virginia State Board of Education, Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools 12 (2020).