Virginia education agency proposes new history standards in public schools

The Virginia Department of Education proposed new standards on November 11, 2022, that aim to provide guidance to the state’s public schools on the Glenn Youngkin administration’s (R) preferred approaches to teaching Virginia and U.S. history. 

Every seven years, the Virginia Department of Education is required to update its History and Social Science Standards of Learning (SOL). Former Democratic Governor Ralph Northam’s administration had proposed its own history guidelines, which required schools to provide the following instruction:

  1. Teach lessons on the LGTBQ+ community and social justice
  2. Teach lessons on racism and discrimination
  3. Recognize holidays like Juneteenth
  4. Teach lessons on climate defense and renewable energy
  5. Halt the requirement of teaching some lessons on Christopher Columbus and Benjamin Franklin
  6. End the requirement of understanding why George Washington is called the “Father of our Country” and why James Madison is called the “Father of the Constitution.”

The Youngkin administration departs from the former administration’s proposed history standards by mandating the following lessons:

  1. Teach lessons for kindergarteners on patriotism, which includes pledging allegiance to the American flag
  2. Teach first grade students to learn critical thinking skills 
  3. Teach fourth grade students to be able to describe the Civil Rights movement in Virginia, why James Madison is called the “Father of the U.S. Constitution,” and why George Washington is called the “Father of our Country” 
  4. Teach fourth grade students about Reconstruction and the Civil War
  5. Teach eleventh grade students about Christopher Columbus and the race-based enslavement of Africans

Opponents of the proposed plan by the Youngkin administration argue it is politically motivated. “It’s just another attack on trying to make history what they want it to be,” argued James Fedderman, President of the Virginia Education Association.

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said that the intention of the policy is to have all students “engaged in fact-based and inquiry-based instruction throughout their education in an age-appropriate way,” according to the Virginia Mercury.

After delaying an August vote on the proposal until November, the Virginia State Board of Education voted 8-0 on November 17, 2022, to further delay the SOL review process until 2023. 

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