Last week, Virginia took a huge step to take politics out of classrooms and put facts back into them. The Commonwealth’s Department of Education released “Guiding Principles” for revising its history and social studies state standards, which demand meaningful civics education and a comprehensive view of American history.
The guiding principles require a rigorous and comprehensive curriculum that teaches history from ancient times to the present day, with emphasis on U.S. history particularly as it is connected to Virginia. The principles are not shy about the breadth of topics the curriculum must cover: “Students will study the horrors of wars and genocide…They will better understand the abhorrent treatment of Native Americans, the stain of slavery, segregation and racism in the United States and around the world, and the inhumanity and deprivations of communist regimes.”
The message here is that historical evils are not unique to America. The bigger message, though, is about American greatness. The guidelines include “inspirational moments[,] including…the American Revolution, the triumph of America’s Greatest Generation in World War II, the Marshall Plan, the civil rights movement,” and more.
Most state-level curricular guidelines do not mention parents, but Virginia’s guidelines explicitly invite them into the conversation via “informed engagement by parents.” “Parents should have open access to all instructional materials utilized in any Virginia public school,” the document notes.
The role of the teacher is also outlined not just as a delivery vehicle for information, but as an apolitical and unbiased moderator between students. According to the guidelines, teachers are responsible for “facilitat[ing] open and balanced discussions on difficult topics, including discrimination and racism, and present[ing] learning opportunities without personal or political bias.”
By including the evils of slavery and other horrific parts of our nation’s past, the Virginia guidelines disprove the lie spread by Critical Race Theory supporters: That without their ideology, students will learn a candy-coated version of American history. Instead, Virginia students will learn America is a great country not because she is sinless, but because of how she has overcome and continues to overcome those sins. This is the antidote to Critical Race Theory, which teaches that America is irredeemably evil and thus our institutions must be torn down or forced to repent in perpetuity.
Virginia insists that its students will learn about the ancient Greeks and Romans, and in doing so, nods to the importance of educating students in Western Civilization. This is important not because Western Civilization is the only one that matters (it is not), but because it is the one we are living in and thus merits designated classroom time.
Virginia got its guidelines right by focusing on the facts of history, not the identities of the people involved. Other states have missed the mark: In Colorado, for instance, the state board of education just voted to include references to LGBT history in the state’s social studies curriculum, even for children as young as preschool. It would be wrong to exclude LGBT individuals from any teaching of history, and it is also wrong to shape a history curriculum around someone’s identity and not around facts of what happened, where, when, and why.
Minnesota, too, is poised to needlessly inject leftist politics into social studies curricula. Its current draft standards would have ninth graders “develop an analysis of racial capitalism, political economy, anti-Blackness, Indigenous sovereignty, illegality and indigeneity,” a project designed more to facilitate political criticism than historical learning.
We have no national social studies curricula, and for good reason: Every state deserves to decide what its students will learn. Students should know what makes their state special just like they should know what makes their country great. Virginia’s students will learn the intimate connection between the history of their Commonwealth and their country. South Dakota’s new history standards, announced in August, include a major emphasis on Native American history and the ways it has shaped the state and the nation.
History education should look a little different in every state. Still, every state should make these unique decisions with principles in mind, including the commitment to facts, civics education, and American pride that animate Virginia’s new guidelines.