The Virginia state department of education has proposed history and social science standards for the state board of education’s consideration. Critics claim the proposal will “whitewash history in school” and “ban the teaching of Martin Luther King Jr. to elementary school students.”

According to the “No Lie with Brian Tyler Cohen” Twitter account, which has over 300,000 followers, “Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) has introduced a new elementary history curriculum that removes all mentions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

False. Completely make believe.

This “No Lie” fellow is lying. He’s also misinformed. The state proposes standards, or guidance on topics that should be covered for each relevant grade, not “curriculum,” which is typically selected and purchased by individual school districts. 

State law requires that Virginia’s History and Social Science Standards of Learning be assessed and updated every seven years. The last update took place in 2015, and the proposed standards are being reviewed by Virginia’s state board of education and will be voted on in early 2023. If approved, they will go into effect in the 2024-25 school year.

According to IWF Fellow Angela Morabito, the principles informing the revised standards “are not shy about the breadth of topics the curriculum must cover.” They state:

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.

According to the principles, “Students will have an in-depth understanding of the good and the bad in the world, United States and Virginia history.” Fortunately, the standards also “will include an appreciation of the attributes and actions that have made America the world’s exemplar of freedom, opportunity and democratic ideals.” 

The proposed standards repeatedly mention Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, and ensure that students are taught about “the stain of slavery, segregation and racism in the United States and around the world.”

Opponents claiming that teaching MLK is “banned” in elementary grades clearly don’t understand how standards work. Standards describe broad goals for student learning and achievement; they don’t “ban” or mandate topics. These critics also haven’t read the 2022 History and Social Science Standards of Learning, which repeatedly cover the topics irate tweeters claim were banned or removed.

The claim that Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement will not be taught in elementary school under the revised standards is false. Some relevant excerpts from the standards include:

Kindergarten: Introduction to History 

K.7 Students will apply history and social science skills to explain how communities honor local and national traditions and recognize officially designated Virginia holidays, such as
1. George Washington’s Birthday (Presidents’ Day).

2. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 

Grade Four: Virginia Studies 

VS.10 Students will apply history and social science skills to describe the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia by:
1. explaining the causes and effects of desegregation and Massive Resistance (e.g., 1040 Norfolk School Board case, 1951 Farmville protest, the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, 1964 Prince Edward County Supreme Court case, “Redlining”, the displacement of Virginia families when the Blue Ridge Parkway was built, the effects that the building of interstate highways had on marginalized communities, and Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision in 1967); and

2. investigating the political, social, or economic effects of choices made by Virginians during the civil rights era (e.g., Maggie L. Walker, Oliver W. Hill, Sr., Irene Morgan, Arthur R. Ashe, Barbara Johns, A. Linwood Holton, Jr., and L. Douglas Wilder)

Grade Six: United States History: U.S. History 1865 to the Present Contemporary America 

USII.8 Students will apply history and social science skills to analyze the key domestic and international issues during the second half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries by: 
1. exploring the accomplishments of innovators and heroes who affected America and the world during this era (e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Height, Marian Anderson, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan);

2. detailing the key events and change makers of the Civil Rights Movement in America and Virginia including Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, John Lewis, Medgar Evers, Ralph Abernathy, boycotts, Selma, Massive Resistance 

Grade six is considered an elementary school grade in some Virginia school districts, including Fairfax County.

Students will explore the civil rights movement in greater depth in the eleventh grade under the revised standards:

Grade Eleven: Virginia and United States History 

VUS.17 Students will apply history and social science skills to analyze the causes and effects of the Civil Rights Movement by:

1.analyzing the origins of the Civil Rights Movement, the effects of segregation (de jure and de facto) and efforts to desegregate schools, transportation, and pubic areas;

2. evaluating the impact and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., including “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” civil disobedience, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, “I Have a Dream” speech (comparing to The Gettysburg Address), and his assassination; 

3. analyzing key events including the murder of Emmett Till, bus boycotts, Little Rock Central High School desegregation, Greensboro sit-ins, Freedom Rides, Birmingham demonstrations, 1963 March on Washington, Freedom Summer, and Selma to Montgomery Marches with additional emphasis on events in Virginia;

4. evaluating and explaining the impact of the
Brown v. Board of Education decision, the roles of Thurgood Marshall and Oliver W. Hill, Sr., and how Virginia responded with Massive Resistance (with a focus on the critical role of Virginia communities and people such as Prince Edward County and Barbara Johns);

5. explaining how the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the 1963 March on Washington, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had an effect on all Americans;

6. analyzing the effect of the Black Power Movement; and

7. describing the tenets of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Rather than carelessly tweeting and retweeting falsehoods, people who are passionate about Virginia and American history should actually read and review the proposed standards. The state of Virginia believes that “teaching of history should illuminate insights from the past and inspire current and future generations to lead lives that are informed and inspired by those who walked this journey before them.” Read the standards, rather than the ill-informed tweets, to determine if the proposal will achieve that goal.