A number of groups are questioning the new history and social studies standards proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration ahead of a board of education meeting to begin reviewing them on Thursday.
Critics from various communities and legislators, more recently in a letter of November 15 to the governor and school officials, argue that the new standards lack influential figures and events, and express concern about what they say is a lack of transparency regarding who made the changes.
The standards will define Virginia’s expectations for student learning in history and social studies, which are assessed through the learning standards tests. The Board of Education delayed its first review after Superintendent Jillian Balow asked for more time to fix errors, reorganize guidance and allow additional experts to weigh in on the project.
“Continued revision and changes to the standards over the past several months have strengthened content at every grade level,” Balow wrote in a letter dated November 10 to the Board of Education. “The amendments honor the work done previously by Virginians and national and state experts.”
Balow also said in his letter that the draft curriculum frameworks, which are guides for teachers, will be released later.
However, reviews in the November 15 letter said the missing curriculum frameworks in the standards make it “impossible for anyone to effectively assess the project as a whole”.
Among the signatories to the letter are 10 lawmakers and Democratic groups, including the Virginia Education Association, the nonprofit Hamkae Center, which describes itself as organizing “Asian Americans to achieve social, economic and racial justice in Virginia,” the Fairfax County NAACP and the Sikh Coalition. The Virginia Education Association referred the applications to the Hamkae Center.
They also questioned the number of “problematic content changes that do not reflect the concerns of our diverse communities” and the involvement of groups such as Michigan-based Hillsdale College in reviewing the standards.
Balow said last month that representatives from other colleges had expressed interest in commenting on the draft standards after VPM reported that she was working with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative educational think tank, to develop the standards.
Here are some objections to the proposed new standards that educational groups and others have raised.
Critics say parts of the new standards lack proper context.
For example, while the standards replace the term “Indian” with “Aboriginals” and require students to study some aspect of the groups, they do not mention that Indigenous Peoples Day replaced Columbus Day in 1992 because the Natives view Christopher Columbus as a colonizer rather than a discoverer.
Additionally, the standards acknowledge the development of slavery in colonial Virginia but do not emphasize the slave trade and tobacco plantations, critics say.
“Nazis” and “The Final Solution,” which are necessary for understanding the Holocaust, are also missing from the standards.
“Content is crucial to understanding the Holocaust and other genocides,” said Gail Flax, a retired educator. “You have to know what happened before and what happened after to be able to analyze and contextualize the story.”
With the removal of historical figures and events, critics have questioned the narrative of history that the administration conveys to students.
Zowee Aquino of the Hamkae Center said the revisions reflected “a pretty explicit political bias”. She said that standards also have a Eurocentric theme that focuses on European or Anglo-American ideas and ignores the contributions of ethnic minorities in white countries.
For example, the name of Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights activist, was removed from elementary school standards. King’s name first appears in sixth-grade standards.
Aquino said there was no mention of Juneteenth, the Chinese Exclusion Act or Martin Luther King Jr. Day in any of the standards. China and the African civilization of Mali, which were part of the standards for world culture studies, were also removed from the third-year standards.
The standards also make no mention of tribal sovereignty.
Senator Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said in a letter to the Board of Education that the revised draft removes “major elements of our history and deliberately
omits the diverse perspectives that shape our community and our nation.
For example, she wrote that the project omitted any discussion of the history or modern culture of the Latino community, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or the LGBTQ community.
“These decisions would mean that hundreds of thousands of Virginia children would not have the opportunity to learn more about their community’s contributions to the fabric and history of our nation,” McClellan wrote. “And wouldn’t every student in Virginia have a fuller understanding of our nation’s history.”
The inclusion of King, the civil rights leader’s national holiday, and Juneteenth marking the day all enslaved Africans became free were several changes recommended by the Virginia Commission on African American History Education, but excluded or generalized in the new writing.
The list of excluded edits includes mention of John Mercer Langston, Virginia’s first African-American congressman. The commission’s recommendation that the standards include the phrase that “not everyone was considered a citizen when our country began, and for a long time after that, even until today” was also excluded. .
Mention of Indigenous peoples and their culture affected by white European colonization was also excluded from the standards, as was the phrase “the economy of the Colony of Virginia depended greatly on temporary and permanent servitude”.
Historical errors and inaccuracies
Critics also say the proposed standards contain historical errors and inaccuracies.
Specifically, students beginning in fourth grade should explain the reasons for the move of Virginia’s capital from Jamestown to Williamsburg as part of the Revolutionary War. However, an email from the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium said on Monday that “it makes absolutely no sense” given that Virginia’s capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond to provide greater protection against British attacks. .
Additionally, the group claims the standards incorrectly convey that Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848, was Virginia’s most recent president instead of Woodrow Wilson, who was elected in 1912.
The standards do not explicitly say which president was most recent. The document only states that students beginning in fourth grade will be expected to explain the growth of a new America with an emphasis on the role of Virginians explaining Virginia’s importance in national leadership, emphasizing its eight presidents from Thomas Jefferson to Zachary Taylor.
“The previous version of the proposed standards did not contain egregious historical errors like this, as they were developed by a team of educators, division leaders and historians,” the consortium wrote.
Aquino also asked if the revisions were age-appropriate.
For example, first- and third-grade students should know the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient piece of legislation, and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, according to the proposed history standards. She said the story is “quite dense and intense” and includes details of capital punishment.
However, Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education, said that by standards, first graders will learn where early civilizations began and third graders will learn about democracy. He said Aurelius is among a list of suggested examples of mythical and historical figures that students might encounter as they “hear, read and tell stories”.
By emphasizing the amount of work demanded of teachers due to labor shortages, the critics question a sentence in the history standards preface that teachers must provide all their teaching materials to parents.
Under the Current regulations of the Board of Educationparents have the right to inspect teaching materials used in the students’ curriculum.
Aquino said many reports link teacher burnout to increased job demands and argued another term doesn’t help support students.
“It’s a huge task that the new administration is asking them to take on that doesn’t improve teaching,” Aquino said.
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