Virginia History Standards On Hold

Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

By Amie Knowles

August 23, 2022

It appears the history and social study standards will now be up for review in January, following a decision to further review the potential changes at the August Virginia Department of Education meeting. 

Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who famously opposed teaching Critical Race Theory during his campaign for governor and after he took office, has made headlines across the commonwealth once again. The latest controversy still revolves around the past, and how educators are allowed to teach it. 

Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) curriculum is up for review, and the guidelines accepted will remain in place for the next seven years. That’s common practice in the commonwealth, dating back to the first review of the 1995 history and social science standards in 2001. However, the governor and Jillian Balow, state superintendent of public instruction, took issue with some of the proposed changes.

Following a surprise appearance at the Virginia Board of Education meeting on Aug. 17, Youngkin spoke with Sinclair-owned 7News over the weekend, where he stated opposition to some of the proposed changes in Virginia’s history curriculum. That included striking references to George Washington as “the father of our country” and James Madison as the “father of the Constitution.”

Youngkin seemingly made a dig at former Gov. Ralph Northam’s team, telling the news station in part that there were “not just mistakes, but errors” in the history and social sciences curriculum set under the previous administration. 

Balow doubled down, referencing typos found in the 400-page draft: “[Y]ou’ve said ‘succession’ instead of ‘secession,’ or you’ve omitted ‘George Washington’ from this particular area, and it’s supposed to be here and it isn’t. We just want a draft that is free of those types of errors.”

The state public schools superintendent also requested that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-wing education policy think tank, review the draft standards. Earlier this month, the institute posted tips on its site for other school divisions interested in seeking a “Freedom Framework” for social studies education, a newly adopted standard in Louisiana. The curriculum focuses on events that made America exceptional.

While Youngkin further expressed interest in teaching students about Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and “the others,” the board decided to delay revisions at the August meeting. The decision went against a previously set mandate for public hearings on the matter to occur in August. 

Facing Opposition

On the other side of the political aisle, members of the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus met on Aug. 19 to discuss the future of history education in Virginia schools. Online, the caucus noted that the draft curriculum guidelines were available for seven months and received more than 5,000 comments from experts and the public. During the 12-minute press conference, elected officials including Senators Louise Lucas, Mamie Locke, and Ghazala Hashmi, urged the adoption of the standards.

“[T]he governor and his administration have chosen to stonewall the approval of the high-quality, objective standards that have been developed by numerous historians working tirelessly to produce high-quality standards so our children can benefit. These standards must not be watered down and whitewashed,” said Lucas, who serves as president pro tempore and education and health committee chair. “Gov. Youngkin is overstepping his constitutional authority in an attempt to whitewash the history our children learn at school. We demand the State Board of Education honor its constitutional obligation and adopt these standards immediately.”

Locke, who serves as the caucus chair and higher education subcommittee chair, alleged in part that the team delayed the report “because they are more interested not in updating the reality of history but instead banning and banishing any and everything that does not support their ideological game plan.” She also speculated that the update would not include references to the January 6th insurrection, the history of racism in Virginia, or other events that “do not fit into their ideological agenda.”

Hashmi added in part: “What I suspect is the real intentionality of the delay is to revise the standards through the specific lens of the Youngkin administration, its corporate partners, and special interests groups whose intent is to whitewash our history books and to not allow for a more full representation of the rich diversity that is a part of our American heritage and history.”

The former secretary of education under Northam, Atif Qarni, took to Twitter to express his opinions following the announcement of the delay. 

Qarni posted: “The Republican-controlled [Virginia] State Board of [Education] voted to stonewall the revised history standards, which dozens of historians and thousands of Virginians worked on. Youngkin wants to suppress black and brown voices.”

Despite the urge from the political leaders, it appears the history and social study standards will now be up for review in January.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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