Virginia board of education approves expansion of African American history in classrooms

The Virginia Board of Education approved a set of recommendations on Thursday to improve the teaching of African American history in schools across the commonwealth.

Those recommendations were made by the African American History Education Commission, which Gov. Ralph Northam created on Aug. 24.

“This unprecedented time of crisis has given all of us an opportunity to renew our focus on breaking down structural inequities and telling a more honest Virginia story in our classrooms,” Northam said in a release. “The commission’s recommendations will ensure that Virginia’s history standards reflect the complexity of our past, help students understand how present-day challenges are connected to this history and provide teachers with more resources to engage in anti-racist work.

On Aug. 31, the commission released those recommendations, which the Board of Education will now implement.

“Incorporating additional context about African American history into the larger historical narrative has never been more important,” Board of Education President Daniel Gecker said in a news release. “The approval of these edits to the standards and curriculum framework begins Virginia’s effort to change the course of history and social science instruction to ensure inclusive and culturally relevant content in all grades and courses.”

For example, second-grade classes will now go more into depth on the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. in ending racial segregation. Other changes include adding Crispus Attucks and James Armistead Lafayette to the list of people who played important roles in the American Revolution and providing more details on the 1619 arrival of the first Africans to British North America.

The board also approved adding the history of lynching in America to Virginia high school courses.

The next step happens in January, when a more comprehensive review of Virginia’s history and social science standards begins. That review takes place every seven years and will consider more significant changes proposed by the commission, including the introduction of new study areas, that will culminate in revised statewide learning standards in 2022.

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