Nov 18, 2022 - Politics

Youngkin enlists conservative think tanks to rewrite history curriculums

Illustration of a cursor hovering over a history book, about to click "Edit" from a drop down menu.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Gov. Glenn Youngkin's administration is pushing to rewrite Virginia's K-12 history curriculum with help from conservative think tanks.

What's happening: So far, it isn't going especially well.

  • The Department of Education's first draft has already prompted at least two rounds of corrections and one apology in the week since it was released.

The latest: The Virginia Board of Education declined to advance the proposal following more than eight hours of discussion and debate during its monthly meeting Thursday.

  • Even Younkin's five appointees, who control a majority on the board, sounded uncertain about the proposal.

Why it matters: The new standards will dictate how students at every grade level are taught about history for years to come.

Catch up fast: The state is required to revise learning standards every seven years — a process that typically draws little notice.

Balow said Thursday the new draft incorporated feedback from voices she said were left out of the first draft.

  • It was written over the course of about a month, replacing a prior version that took about 18 months to produce.
  • She specifically noted outreach to conservative education think tanks, including the Fordham Institute, which advocates for charter schools, and the National Association of Scholars, which developed a civics curriculum to counter what it sees as a rise of progressive activism in schools.

What they're saying: Opponents lambasted the proposed changes as a revisionist whitewash during a four-hour public comment period.

  • The plan drew especially strong criticism from Black, Asian, Sikh and Native American parents, who said the curriculum excluded their stories.
  • Board member Anne Holton, a Democrat appointed by Northam, wondered why Ronald Reagan was mentioned five times but the country's first Black president, Barack Obama, wasn't mentioned once.

The other side: At Thursday's meeting, Balow said the initial deletion of references to Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth were unintentional errors that had been corrected. And she apologized for language describing Indigenous people as "America's first immigrants" — a rewrite that members of Virginia tribes who spoke Thursday called deeply offensive.

  • But she contended that the new draft still represented a major improvement and noted it included the creation of a brand new unit focused on the civil rights movement.
  • In response to criticism about specific deletions, she insisted the material could still be included as part of a curriculum framework she said would be developed later.

The bottom line: After eight hours of debate, board members mostly sounded confused, directing Balow to come up with a new draft that incorporates the public comments received Thursday and clearly documents what changes are being made and why.

  • "The public is worried about what's in and out," said Youngkin appointee Andy Rotherham. That uncertainty, he said, "is creating a ton of confusion and angst."

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