Virginia Republican Governor Youngkin is using ham-handed sleight-of-hand methods to return the State to the Byrd machine days of the 1950s and 1960s massive resistance to integration. And he is doing so by using Byrd’s way of manipulating the education curriculum.
During Governor Northam’s administration, many leaders admitted that the miseducation of Virginians needed to be corrected. In 2019 several state universities in Virginia held forums on this issue. Relatedly, Northam appointed a Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth to develop standards of how African American history should be integrated into the curriculum.
Then came Governor Youngkin, who appointed new members to the Virginia State Board of Education. One of the board’s first significant actions was to reject a draft version of the Standards of Learning (SOLs) that had been in the works for months. This work resulted in a more than 400-page document produced in consultation with museums, historians, professors, political scientists, economists, geographers, teachers, parents, and students.
Under Youngkin’s direction, the Department of Education rewrote these State’s history standards, a rewrite full of historical errors and inaccuracies. This rewrite was led by the Superintendent of Education, the Superintendent’s selected consultant, and staff from the Governor’s office.
Appropriate experts were not involved in this rewrite, as the new content is not only racist but also woefully ignorant at best or deliberately false at worst. For example, they refer to Native Americans as “the first immigrants.”
White supremacy, as exemplified in recent activities of MAGA Republicans and their associates, is evident in the Youngkin-led rewrite. For example, the old guidelines say students should learn about the geography of all seven continents. In contrast, the new guidelines say only that students should become familiar with the continent of Europe, able to “[identify] Europe’s countries (especially Greece and Italy).”
The Concerned Educators of the Commonwealth released a statement objecting to the rewrite of the SOLs. They presented many problems with the rewrite, including the following.
“The rewrite of the proposed Standards completely removes the African civilization of Mali from the Third Grade standards while Ancient Greece and Rome have been greatly expanded. All of these civilizations should be explored for students to fully understand the world – not just the Western World. This represents another example of erasing people of color from the previous version of the standards while elevating a Eurocentric view of the world.”
As Diane Ravitch, the great public education warrior put it, the new “Youngkin standards eliminate anything that extremists and rightwingers find objectionable.” This meant eliminating much of the material about African Americans.
One of the most outrageous changes was eliminating Martin Luther King from the elementary school curriculum. But there were plenty more, too numerous to list here.
In the MAGA Republican/Youngkin world, racism never existed. The old guidelines state that an overarching theme of all fifth-grade lessons on U.S. history up through 1865 should be “racism,” defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” The new Youngkin guidelines do not mention teaching students about racism.
Reacting to this criticism of the SOL rewrite Governor Youngkin said that the document would be corrected for “omissions and mistakes.” However, based on experts’ criticisms, we should reject anything less than a revision back toward the original.