Parents, teachers criticize Virginia’s proposed changes to history, social sciences curriculum

After education officials in Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration released proposed changes to the way K-12 students in public schools learn history and social sciences, some parents and teachers are voicing their opposition.

“The standards perpetuate a situation in which countless students are left being and feeling unseen in the classroom and curriculum,” said Crystal Varner Parker, a Presbyterian minister and mother of two Henrico County students, during a Virginia Board of Education public hearing Thursday.

Opponents to the proposed changes to the revised History and Social Science Standards of Learning (SOL) said this version whitewashes history, doesn’t address how past injustices fuel current racism and didn’t have input from diverse voices.

The revised draft of standards also received pushback from the Virginia Education Association.

“The standards are full of overt political bias, outdated language to describe enslaved people and American Indians, highly subjective framing of American moralism and conservative ideals, coded racist overtures throughout, requirements for teachers to present histories of discrimination and racism as ‘balanced’ ‘without personal or political bias,’ and restrictions on allowance of ‘teacher-created curriculum,’ which is allowed in all other subject areas,” the group said.

The new draft’s guiding principles say: “Students will know our nation’s exceptional strengths, including individual innovation, moral character, ingenuity and adventure, while learning from terrible periods and actions in direct conflict with these ideals.”

The updated SOL requires students to learn about slavery, the Holocaust and Japanese internment camps. It also will include lessons on Virginia’s Indigenous people.

Parents at the public meeting said that Indigenous people are referred to dismissively as “first immigrants” in the curriculum for kindergartners, though they are referred to as Indigenous people in first grade and up.

Youngkin appointed five members to the Board of Education, which delayed the adoption of a revised history and social sciences curriculum created during the previous administration of Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.

The Northam draft included lessons on racism and on the LGBTQ community.

“Are we mandating that our teachers tell our students that we’re a racist country? No. We aren’t mandating that,” Republican Del. Glenn Davis, who chairs the House Education Committee, told WTOP.

Davis said that Youngkin’s version requires students to learn about the KKK, and Supreme Court cases that enshrined white supremacy, including Plessy v. Ferguson and the Dred Scott — which were not required in the Northam version.

“All students will learn about the KKK and the inherent racism during one of the darkest periods of our nation’s history,” he said. “So how is that not ensuring that our students are taught about racism and those time periods of our nation’s history?”

He said a previous draft that omitted any requirement that students learn about Martin Luther King Jr. Day was due to an administrative error.

The Board of Education is required to review the Standards of Learning in all subjects at least once every seven years. The Board last revised the SOLs for history and social science in 2015.
There will be public engagement sessions on the latest version from Nov. 28 to Dec. 16, and public hearings Jan. 9 through Jan. 13, 2023.

The final review and adoption is set for Feb. 2, 2023.

Shayna Estulin

Shayna Estulin joined WTOP in 2021 as an anchor/reporter covering breaking news in the D.C. region. She has loved radio since she was a child and is thrilled to now be part of Washington’s top radio news station.

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