Home Critics slam Youngkin-directed effort to whitewash K-12 history, social science teaching

Critics slam Youngkin-directed effort to whitewash K-12 history, social science teaching

Chris Graham
glenn youngkin
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Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s war on K-12 public education in Virginia is opening up a new front: aimed, not the least bit surprisingly, at history and the social sciences.

The Republican’s five appointees to the Virginia Board of Education are setting in motion a scheme to water down draft guidelines for history and social science education that had been developed under his Democratic predecessors in in consultation with museums, historians, professors, political scientists, economists, geographers, teachers, parents and students.

To be able to do this, the board delayed the state law-mandated update to the History and Social Science Standards of Learning into early 2023 with draft guidelines that remove content involving Martin Luther King Jr. from the K-5 standards, delay any teaching about lynching until the sixth grade, and only introduce the role of Christopher Columbus in the slave trade until the 11th grade.

The new standards also remove entirely LGBTQ+ history and Juneteenth and mention of gender equity and renewable energy.

“Students will have an in-depth understanding of the good and the bad in the world, United States and Virginia history,” the new draft states. “The standards will include an appreciation of the attributes and actions that have made America the world’s exemplar of freedom, opportunity and democratic ideals.”

This is a lean into Youngkin’s rhetoric about the supposed influence of critical race theory and “inherently divisive concepts” that he used on the campaign trail last year, along with his regular guy red vest, to get the soccer moms and dads to feel comfortable voting for him.

Now following up on his promise to make suburban white families feel better about themselves, his appointees to the VBOE have leveraged their political clout to insert language into the new draft guidelines for the teaching of history and social science a directive to teachers to work with students “in age-appropriate ways that do not ascribe guilt to any population in the classroom.”

“The revised history and social science learning standards are loaded with political bias and suggest that instead of preparing our students for whatever comes next with accurate, honest, age-appropriate lessons, we should only teach them one view of history,” said David Walrod, the president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.

“It’s clear that the Youngkin administration cares more about injecting politics into classrooms and curriculum, even if it means denying our students an opportunity to learn and think critically. This is not a question of what party you vote for – it’s a question of whether you care about preparing our kids for the real world, with diverse perspectives and an opportunity for them to ask questions and make up their own minds,” Walrod said.

The new draft guidelines are not about “preparing our kids for the real world,” of course.

The effort here is to reinstall and then reinforce generations of existing biases, which is really what the whole Make America Great Again catchphrase was designed to get people to rally around.

Implied there is that America was at its greatest with the TV image of the 1950s white nuclear family, a time that went away with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s launching a line of other social-justice initiatives that have pushed for equal rights for women, LGBTQ+s, Latinos, Asians and other marginalized subgroups.

All those damn equal rights for other people.

But never fear: Glenn Youngkin is here, ready to erase decades of incremental progress, by making sure our kids have no idea that any of that uncomfortable stuff ever happened.

Dr. James J. Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, put the boot to the effort to whitewash K-12 public education.

“The draft history standards released on Friday represents the worst kind of politically motivated meddling with academic curriculum,” Fedderman said. “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. Worse yet, these standards appear to have been taken largely from the far-right Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum, which we’ve seen implemented in other conservative states such as Tennessee, Florida, and South Dakota.

“By contrast, the history standards presented earlier this summer were carefully and professionally created, the result of extensive input from both the state’s and our nation’s top historians and curriculum experts. Thousands of comments, from both history educators and the public, were submitted and incorporated. The sequencing by theme, higher level of rigor for making connections, and overall pedagogy were all designed in a thoughtful manner promoting rich discussions and critical thinking.

“The quality of these two sets of standards, and the process by which they were created, could not have been more different,” Fedderman said. “These new history standards do not reflect the commitment to academic rigor that have help make Virginian public schools so successful, nor do they reflect the values of Virginians.

“VEA calls for partisan shenanigans to be put aside and to return to a history curriculum developed by academics for the benefit of our children, not by out-of-state special-interest groups for their own political gain.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].