Last week, the Virginia Board of Education met to discuss the state’s revised History and Social Science Standards of Learning (SoL). This draft includes the patriotic vision set forward by Governor Glenn Youngkin and the diverse perspective of over 200 reviewees.

After listening to the meeting, however, it’s clear that the board is far from a consensus. 

Gov. Youngkin has come a long way in reforming Virginia’s standards. He entered office with an ambitious goal of moving from a “B+ in history” to a “best in class” ranking. This process began with his first executive order—a rejection of Critical Race Theory—and empowering parents to play an informed and active role in crafting education standards.

Strong divisions remain between board members. It shows the success of current efforts and just how far they must go to align more fully with parents’ wishes.

Their disagreement centered on the guiding principles found on pages 7-9 of the document. 

Vice President Dr. Tammy Mann and Ms. Anne Holton call for a complete removal of the guiding principles. They take issue with key portions like Ronald Reagan’s “shining city upon a hill” speech, the unqualified categorization of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as remarkable documents, or the statement that socialism is “incompatible with democracy and individual freedom.” 

The problem is not the standards, they argue, but teacher qualification. “Partisan” language like “restoring excellence” is more likely to deter the best teachers rather than improve overall educational standards. 

Nonetheless, the guiding principles have been well-received by most. 

Suparna Dutta, one of the few board members appointed by Gov. Youngkin, pointed out that parents and the community were not pleased with the previous direction of the board. As an immigrant born in a nation with remnants of colonialism and socialism, she praised the guiding principles. 

The guiding principles set the foundational vision for the standards outlined in the rest of the draft. To remove the principles, simply because they cause disagreement, is to miss the larger truth about education. And where it’s gone wrong in recent years.

Education is not a value-neutral project; it is a study in moral formation. Teachers should be apolitical and unbiased mediators, but the content itself is not. 

As students learn how to read, write, and solve mathematical equations, they are also formed by particular values and beliefs. For Virginia, the goal is to endow students with a patriotic education that celebrates the exceptionalism of the United States and recognizes its errors. 

The guidelines “teach ALL history—the good and the bad —preparing every student to be an informed member of our democracy and communities.” In short, teaching students to think critically about their history without suggesting “students are responsible for historical wrongs based on immutable characteristics, such as race or ethnicity.” 

The guidelines encourage “consistency and comprehension” in the curriculum so that “teacher-created curriculum is unnecessary.” In so many words, these two sentences curb ideologically-motivated efforts to push critical theory or LGBTQ sexuality in the classroom. On the bright side, this relieves teachers of the responsibility to make their own lesson plans. It ensures that school districts provide textbooks or curriculum resources for teachers to use. 

For parents, this is exactly what they want to see. 

The conflict over education in states like Virginia, Florida, or Ohio boils down to questions about what values parents want to be instilled in their children.  

As James K.A. Smith says, “it’s not a question of if you worship, but what you worship.” The same can be said of our schools. It’s not a question of if their education endows students with certain values, but what those values are.

This is what makes the proposed History and Social Science Standards of Learning so important. It recognizes the moral aspect of education and the values it aims to instill in Virginia’s students. This includes a sense of excellence, a love for history, a sober reckoning with the nations’ sins, a patriotic spirit, and the ability to think critically about their duties and responsibilities as citizens.  

It is key that parents and community members actively particulate in the final months of debate. By April, the board will vote to implement new standards that will guide education in Virginia for the next seven years. 

Parents must fight to preserve the guiding principles and ensure that future generations of students receive a “best in class” education.