Before we begin, please take the following multiple choice exam:
On November 17th, when the Virginia Superintendent of Schools presented the state Board of Education with her revisions to the proposed Social Studies and History Standards of Learning for grades K-12, which entity called these changes, “hastily and irresponsibly prepared” and “flawed”?
A. The Virginia Education Association
B. The Senate Majority Leader
C. The contractor who wrote the revision for the Department
D. 4 Public Education
If you guessed C). “the contractor,” you would be correct. Yes, the document she prepared was so unprofessional, lacking in important details, lacking in appropriate organization that, after a scathing 4-hour public hearing, she wrote a letter of apology for her shoddy work. She did manage to try to excuse her performance at the hearing by taking a dig at the 100s of citizens who drove for hours or wrote an email to plead with the Board not to accept these changes. She branded these activists as part of an “organized political attack.” The word “snowflake” comes to mind.
The speakers included students from the College of William & Mary and University of Richmond asking the Board to reinstate the work on Martin Luther King and the civilizations of Africa into the curriculum as they did not see any people who looked like them in a history lesson until they got to college. An Asian activist broke down while testifying about her sense of otherness in the proposed curriculum as Asian Americans were largely excluded. A native American shamed the Board by noting that, despite the rhetoric in the proposed draft, he and his tribe are not “the first immigrants,” but rather, we were all convening the meeting on land that had belonged to his tribe. The morning of testimony was emotionally rich, personal and compelling. It’s quite telling that all this professional heard was cynical noise. The objections to the draft ranged from leaving out entire cultures that helped build the nation, to adding complicated and inappropriate lessons, to simple mistakes of basic grammar.
The Commonwealth requires our children to sit for hours and memorize rote facts for standardized testing we call the “Standards of Learning” or the “SOLs” In the past two decades these tests have become ubiquitous and, many would argue both inequitable and counter-productive to a vibrant, creative, welcoming teaching environment–both for the students and the teachers.
The Virginia Department of Education is charged with revising the SOLs every 7 years to keep pace with new priorities in education and to undo the biases that creep in. This year with the naked weaponization of testing to indoctrinate our children with an extreme Eurocentric bias, and whitewashing the contributions of people of color, AAPI and other cultural roots of American history, we should all take a look at what we gain and what we lose by championing these tests. The test companies make millions and they employ highly paid lobbyists to Richmond to ensure this business keeps expanding.
As parents and community members we should be asking ourselves if these tests, especially at the elementary school level, bring more value than harm especially if they are now being used as tools of bias and inequity.
Despite being almost 6 months behind in the revision process, the Board of Education did not adopt the proposed draft. Instead, it directed the Superintendent to go back to an earlier version that hundreds of experts worked on for over two years and to work with both that, and whatever she can glean from her proposal and present the Board with a new option. 4 Public Education will be watching and we stand ready to act when the new proposal is made public.