After a lengthy process that incorporated feedback from countless reviewers, the Virginia Department of Education released proposed revisions to the commonwealth’s standards of learning for history and social sciences in grades K-12. If adopted by the board of education, the standards would enhance the teaching of facts and principles critical to raising the next generation of engaged citizens.
The updated standards come as many students remain dangerously uninformed about important components of our civic life. The most recent federal analysis of testing data demonstrated that more than one-third of eighth-graders nationwide lacked even a basic understanding of U.S. history, and this was before the learning losses suffered in the pandemic. Countless other surveys have shown a similar decline in civic knowledge, from nearly half of college students not knowing the term lengths for members of Congress to individuals confusing our American republic with a direct democracy.
The new standards might not solve these national trends, but if implemented they should provide the next generation of Virginians with the objective knowledge and skills they need to become productive citizens. The standards do not shy from the sins of racism and slavery, nor should they. But neither do they condemn a nation that has long served as a beacon of hope around the world as irretrievably evil or blame today’s generation for the actions of ancestors long since deceased.
Consistent with a process that saw input from groups as diverse as the African American Advisory Board and the Commission to Combat Antisemitism, the proposed standards include important discussions of the Holocaust, the civil rights movement, treatment of Native Americans and the impact of religions.
The standards state that “parents should have open access to all instructional materials utilized in any Virginia public school.” Compare that with the view of a previous Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe, who infamously stated in 2021 that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” As a mother living in Virginia, I’m glad that the current standards and current governor will allow me to have a say in my children’s education.
If the board of education adopts them, these proposed standards will help to create more perfect citizens — Virginians who recognize our history, warts and all, but also deeply understand the principles that have provided hope and opportunity to the world for centuries.