Education or Indoctrination? Review of the Virginia History Standards Hearings
By the time you read this blog, public input will be closed for the Virginia History and Social Studies Standards of Learning (History SOLs). These public input sessions were required after the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) decided in February to proceed with the January 2023 proposed revision of the History SOLs (a.k.a., the January version), in spite of overwhelming opposition to that revised version, and overwhelming support for the August 2022 proposed revision of the History SOLs (a.k.a., the August version).
Thus, the Virginia Department of Education (VA DOE) held six in-person public input opportunities around the state in impressive locations like the Jamestown Settlement or Mount Vernon Library, but in painfully small rooms unable to accommodate the concerned citizens of Virginia, most of whom recounted how the January version of the History SOLs were inadequate, offensive, exclusionary, and developmentally inappropriate for student learning and success.
Despite substantial logistical effort of VA DOE staff, it felt as if the Youngkin administration did not take these events or the public seriously. Of concern is that there is no available video from VA DoE or public record to review; thereby underlining ongoing concerns of accountability and transparency that has plagued the VA DOE process since August 2022. Fortunately, citizen journalists covered the events in Fairfax, Charlottesville, and Roanoke.
Of concern is that there is no available video from VA DoE or public record to review; thereby underlining ongoing concerns of accountability and transparency that has plagued the VA DOE process since August 2022
It should be noted that speakers had prepared to speak for three minutes, but in many locations, they were limited to two minutes due to a surprising volume of speakers; however, the VA DoE failed to give speakers the common courtesy of a visible timer. As a result, many speakers ran out of time and were curtly cut off.
Overwhelmingly, students, parents, teachers, elected officials, respected historians, and other citizens rejected Youngkin’s revisions during public input, except for a precious few who cited Judeo-Christian values, patriotism, or CRT. Speaker after speaker–old and young–demanded that the work of the August 2022 standards be respected and reinstated.
4 Public Education collected reports from four of the six hearings to recount representative citizen input reflected during the sessions.
Click the arrow on the left to expand each section:
Jamestown Settlement (Williamsburg, VA) – March 13, 2023
At Jamestown Settlement, people lined up in advance of the hearing to have a chance to speak. People spoke for and against the January SOL version, but it was apparent that the majority of speakers rejected the January version and supported the August version of the History SOLs.
For example, Kathryn Haines, Chesterfield School Board member pointed out that the August 2022 SOL version was produced after years of effort by numerous history experts but the January version was developed by undisclosed individuals with political agendas and had an unrealistic number of additional standards (132!) added that would not be possible for students to learn in the time they have available.
Mike Karabinos, of Chesterfield, pointed out that the superintendent, Jill Balow, who has since resigned in disgrace, produced the January version of the History SOLs in a partisan manner when history should be accurate. For example, she included a principles statement that said that socialist political systems are “incompatible with democracy and individual freedom,” which would not be well received by United States allies like Germany, Great Britain, Denmark, Finland, Norway, France, Australia, New Zealand, or Canada, all of which are socialist democracies.
Mount Vernon Library (Alexandria, VA) – March 14, 2023
Before the Mount Vernon hearing, the HAMKAE Center led a rally during which Mitch Chan led the chant “Whose history, our history.” Almost 100 public school board members, other elected officials, candidates for office, teachers, parents, historians, members of nonprofits, students, and other members of the public, provided comments at the hearing that was attended my so many community members there was standing room only in the main hearing room and overflow rooms had to be employed.
Rachna Sizemore Heizer, chair of the Fairfax County Public School Board, stated that the January 2023 version was not appropriate. She offered that we need to study the good and the bad of history so that we can learn from our mistakes and not repeat them.
Ed Henderson, grandson and namesake of the founder of the Fairfax County NAACP and founder of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, said the VDOE was guilty of the “sins of omission” and are trying to present a false narrative that Africa is a “dark continent” with no history or culture. He reminded the board that all of humanity started in Africa, and history will judge Virginia harshly if we pursue the January version of the standards.
Sujatha Hampton, current second Vice President of the Fairfax County NAACP, commented that acceptance of the January version would make Virginia a national and international laughing stock. She pointed out numerous mistakes, including wrong dates, wrong attributions, claims that the Marshall Plan was associated with Japan (instead of Europe), and the lack of a discussion of fascism.
Holly Hazard, President of 4 Public Education (4PE), urged the Board to adopt the "thoroughly-vetted, strongly and broadly supported, well-researched, grammatically correct, age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, historically accurate" August version. She added that those Standards are free of the stain of political propaganda and they were reviewed by an astonishing 5,000 stakeholders. Also she noted that they were drafted, not by those with a political agenda, but with experts in our U.S. History. Four other founders of 4PE also provided comments to the VBOE and presented a petition (signed by 1,340 Virginians) calling for the rejection of the January 2023 standards, adoption of the August 2022 proposed standards, and also for the VBOE to release the names of all who contributed to the revision of the August 2022 standards and any amounts paid to them.
Piedmont Virginia Community College (Charlottesville, VA) – March 15, 2023
At the Charlottesville hearing, most of the speakers were against the proposed January 2023 version.
Zowee Aquino, from the Hamkae Center, told the board that the proposed draft prevented the history of marginalized communities from being taught comprehensively or accurately.
Delegate Sally Hudson, the first woman to represent Charlottesville (the 57th district) in the Virginia State House, reminded us that one of the first things Governor Youngkin did was strip three sitting members of the Board from their seats, all of whom were appointed by Governor Northam and two of whom were African American, for the purpose of fast tracking these inferior standards.
David Broder, SEIU Virginia 512 Union President, offered a possible motive behind this version of the standards: the Youngkin administration is trying to eliminate the history of working people because those in power don’t want to be challenged.
O. Winston Link & History Museum of Western Virginia (Roanoke) – March 16, 2023
At the Roanoke hearing, about 25 speakers criticized the proposed revised Standards of Learning. The few community members who approved of the January version seemed to be comparing it to the Standards of Learning from 2015, and not the August 2022 version.
Luke Priddy, member of the Council for the City of Roanoke, who spoke outside of his official role, said that it is incredibly important to provide students with an accurate and inclusive curriculum before they go out into the world to be our next generation of leaders.
Laura Bowman, a parent, hoped that the VBOE would hear and take seriously the input of classroom teachers and experts in history. She added that the proposed January version adds too many (132) new standards without additional time or funding to enable educators to develop and teach these standards. She explained this will require an over-abundance of rote memorization instead of using meaningful learning opportunities for students.
Emily Yen, of the Virginia Education Association, noted that the January version teaches students distorted views of history that would negatively shape how they think about people, especially marginalized groups of people.
Abingdon and Farmville Hearings, March 20 and 21, 2023
There will be two more hearings held on the January 2023 proposed revisions to the History and Social Studies Standards of Learning:
Abingdon at the Southwest Higher Education Center on March 20
The next steps taken by the VA DOE and VBOE will determine whether they have listened to the will of the people, or whether they choose to implement faulty, divisive, and inadequate standards for history and social studies across the Commonwealth.
4 Public Education thanks all of the Virginians that came out in the cold to far away unfamiliar locations to provide public input. We would also like to formally thank all of the allied organizations who are fighting for truth in history. In particular, we would like to thank the Hamkae Center, whose brave leadership inspired Virginians across the state.