Those who enjoy watching a spirited tennis match will draw real pleasure from the current back-and-forth controversy over social studies education in Virginia. Anyone with a child in an American public, parochial or private school should pay close attention.
What are Social Studies?
The term “social studies” has far more meaning than many people realize. One of the first times that the phrase is mentioned is as the title of an 1887 book written by a liberal Episcopalian clergyman, R. Heber Newton. Readers can taste the flavor of the movement’s radicalism in this quotation:
“Jesus appears to have always lived in a Communism. For thirty years, he was a member of the Family Commune in the Nazarite carpenter’s home. During the three years of his public life, he was the centre of the little brotherhood of thirteen which he himself formed, and which seems to have had one purse in common, from which they drew for the common needs. The members of that Communism literally gave up all of their possessions to follow the Master.”
Thus, the connection between “social studies” and “socialism” has always been present and continues today. However, the term became so common that few consider that connection. This neglect is regrettable. As seen in the recent 1619 Project controversy, social studies have all too often been the academic home of America’s educational radicals.
Virginia’s August Standards
Virginia and most other states use the term as a kind of educational shorthand that includes four disciplines—history, geography, civics and economics. Some other states also include psychology and sociology under that broad heading. Virginia first published statewide social studies standards in 1995, which the state authorities reviewed in 2001, 2008 and 2015. In 2021, the state completed another review/revision.
On August 4, 2022, Christonya Brown, the department’s history and social science coordinator, presented a new 402-page proposed curriculum. One goal of the revision came directly from the “woke” handbook, a plan to “incorporate diverse perspectives.” Left unsaid is that most of the “diverse perspectives” are leftist.
The struggle over Virginia’s social studies standards has excited comments from the nation’s academics.
The Politics of History
The National Association of Scholars (NAS) aimed firmly at the standards released in August. It cited ten major objections, alleging that the proposed standards are:
- Organized confusingly and repetitively, making implementation unnecessarily difficult.
- Vague, pedantic and inflated prose that parents will have trouble understanding.
- Focused on skills rather than content.
- Rely on “inquiry-based learning” that emphasizes raising questions and forming opinions, often with little information.
- Committed to “Action Civics,” which trains students in progressive protest methods.
- Abbreviated in terms of content which removes many basic ideas.
- Skewed in content, supporting radical ideologies.
- Replete with factual distortions and errors
- Disjointed in the study of World History and minimize the achievements of western civilizations.
- Essentially excluding “America’s extraordinary history and the ordinary tyrannies that constitute so much of human affairs.”
Unsurprisingly, the far more liberal American Historical Association (AHA) supports those same standards. It released a letter that “commends the draft standards that the Board of Education considered at its August meeting.”
The AHA also inserted a warning. “This bears emphasis: If you throw out the draft standards, or substantially revise them, you risk doing significant harm to students in your state.” (Emphasis in the original.) And the AHA takes a swipe at the NAS. “We were dismayed to read the letter written by the National Association of Scholars (NAS)…. Its recommendations are fundamentally at odds with the AHA’s criteria and the best practices of history and social studies education.”
A New Governor and a New School Board
However, by August, the nineteen-member state Board of Education had five new members appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin. Many observers attributed the governor’s victory in 2021 to his conservative views on education.
The governor’s new appointees examined the document closely. The Washington Post quoted one of those new appointees, Suparna Dutta.
“These themes and concepts talk about questionable concepts like conflict and power relationships and highlighting colonialism, imperialism, servitude, enslavement, nationalism, racism, cultural expressionism over basic economic principles.”
The Post continued, “Dutta took particular issue with the proposal to replace the term ‘good citizenship’ with ‘responsible citizenship’ across several grades, arguing that this replacement inserts into the standards ‘a bias against making judgments, or to teach kids what is right, what is wrong.’”
The November Revision
The new members’ objections bore fruit in a 53-page document released in November 2022.
Despite the objections of leftists, this new curriculum does not “whitewash” American history. The document’s six-page introduction promises, “The standards provide an unflinching and fact-based coverage of world, United States and Virginia history.”
The writers give examples. “They [the students] will better understand the abhorrent treatment of Native Americans, the stain of slavery, segregation and racism in the United States and around the world….”
Tellingly, that list concludes with a point that leftists would rather leave out: “the inhumanity and deprivations of communist regimes.”
At the same time, there is room for more triumphant aspects of American History. “Students will also study inspirational moments including… the American Revolution, the triumph of America’s Greatest Generation in World War II, the Marshall Plan, the civil rights movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Project Apollo and the heroic sacrifice of Flight 93 passengers.”
The following paragraph includes an even more expansive view of American greatness. “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.”
A Local Struggle with National Importance
This struggle has implications that go far beyond the Commonwealth of Virginia. The unique circumstances surrounding the current governor’s election mean that the battle to take back history and the other “social studies” is happening there first. Virginia’s proximity to Washington, D.C., means it gets more attention from the national media than many other states.
However, that battle is coming to the capital of every state where parents care about their children’s education. As an aid for parents nationwide, the NAS has compiled this schedule for the various states’ Social Studies standards revision.
- 2022/Current: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky (partial), Minnesota, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia
- 2023: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Ohio, Oregon, Wyoming
- 2024: Alabama, Arizona, Montana, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Wisconsin
- 2025: Kentucky, Texas
- 2026: Colorado, Maryland, North Dakota, South Carolina
- 2027: Hawaii, Kansas
- 2029: Louisiana
- 2031: Illinois
- No Revision Currently Scheduled: Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri (but could change), New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington
- Waiting Confirmation: District of Columbia (current process), North Carolina (2021)
Chances are excellent that many state education bureaucrats will try to keep these processes as secret as possible. It is up to parents in each state to acquaint themselves with their state’s process and stand up for education that is both solid and traditional.
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