Virginia History Standards Revised: They’re Teaching WHAT?!

By Amie Knowles

November 16, 2022

As presented, the new standards would take Martin Luther King, Jr. out of elementary education, refer to Native Americans as “immigrants,” and more.

In a few decades, kids might open their history books and learn about the time Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) proposed changes to the Standards of Learning (SOL) for history and social science courses.

If this chapter gets included, it might contain information like this:

  • The proposed changes include teaching kindergarteners about patriotism 
  • Having first graders sing “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” a song originally referencing the American Flag as a “rag” and containing lyrics from a Confederate ballad, “Dixie”
  • Conflicting information like waiting to introduce slavery concepts until fourth grade in the new version—when the topic was bridged a grade level earlier in 2008—while noting the addition of “more specific and thorough treatment of the issue of slavery, particularly by requiring more content in earlier grades”

While nothing’s set in stone yet and there will be a period set aside for public comment before finalization of the standards, multiple adjustments raised many concerns in Virginia. 

Expressing Concerns

People across the commonwealth took issue with some of the components presented in the Final Redraft of Virginia’s History and Social Science Standards for K-12

The previous version of proposed standard changes while Gov. Ralph Northam was in office received a comprehensive review by experts including educators, historians, professors, museums, organizations, parents, teachers, and VDOE staff. The current version proposed under Youngkin’s governorship did not undergo the same checks and balances. 

In a document sent to Virginia legislators and obtained and uploaded online by Sinclair-owned ABC7 News, the Youngkin administration noted: “The August 2022 draft standards were unnecessarily difficult for educators to understand and implement; they were also inaccessible for parents and families. The November 2022 revised standards are easily understood and implemented through a logical progression with a recommended grade level sequence.” 

Concerned Educators of the Commonwealth put together a document listing a number of issues with the revision. Some of the concerns they raised include:

  • Removing Martin Luther King, Jr. from elementary curriculum
  • Referring to Native Americans as “America’s first immigrants,” despite being indigenous
  • Reducing content on contributions from the Sikh and the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community

The final redraft also does not contain a mention of the LGBTQ+ community in Virginia, nor does it have any mention of Juneteenth. 

Virginians React

Virginians reacted swiftly to the proposed changes to the commonwealth’s history and social science standards.

Del. Sally Hudson tweeted: “Governor Youngkin’s new history standards require Marc Antony in elementary school but not [Martin Luther King] Jr. Never forget he kicked Virginia’s Teacher of the Year—Anthony Swann, a Black man—off the Board of Education so he could ram this through.”

ACLU of Virginia replied to a tweet alleging that the standards tell children what to think about history with: “Exactly. Virginia’s new proposed social studies standards ignore the voices of qualified experts [and thousands of Virginians]. Virginia’s students deserve to learn diverse perspectives from a wide range of communities in their history curricula. They deserve to learn the truth.”

The Virginia Education Association also tweeted their thoughts on the standards, linking to a Washington Post article quoting VEA President James Fedderman and writing: “How do we feel about the new history standards? ‘…political bias, outdated language to describe enslaved people and American Indians, highly subjective framing of American moralism, coded racist overtures…’ and that’s just the start.”

What Happens Next? 

In Virginia, the process of revising the standards takes place at least once every seven years. This year, the process stalled in August and the standards underwent further development. 

The Board of Education plans to vote on the revised standards in February 2023. If approved, professional development would begin in summer 2023 and the revised standards would enter the classroom in the 2024-25 school year.

  • 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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