The Virginia Board of Education will revisit its proposed new standards for social studies and history following massive pushback that described the guidelines as "gaslighting" and "whitewashing."
Virginia's standards of learning (SOLs) outline what teachers must prioritize each year and what information will be covered on state-issued tests. The standards must be updated every seven years, though this year's proposed changes sparked local and national outrage.
According to The Virginian Pilot, the proposed SOLs removed mentions of Martin Luther King Jr. and Juneteenth, and referred to to indigenous peoples as “first immigrants”. Critics accused it of erasing the effects of racism and slavery, while also disparaging government intervention in the free market.
The Virginia NAACP said in a Thursday statement that it "denounces Governor Glen Youngkin and the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) proposed revisions to the history and social studies standards as an attempt to rewrite history to a narrower, whitewashed perspective, and unduly burden educators by requiring 'open access to all instructional materials.'”
"The recommended revisions to the curriculum are divisive and will deny Virginia’s school-age children the opportunity to learn accurate American history," it added.
The NAACP specifically condemned the erasure of Martin Luther King Jr., with education advocacy group Fight For Schools also referring to it as "gaslighting." Virginia State Senator Jennifer L. McClellan also wrote a letter to board members urging them to reject the proposed SOLs, as they "minimize diverse perspectives" and "reflect right-wing political priorities", per The Washington Post.
Virginia is just one state where legislators and school officials have pushed conservative policies, including restricting sex education and banning books with racial or LGBTQ+ subjects. Florida has been the most aggressive proponent, stripping the licenses of teachers who discuss gender and sexuality in K-3 classrooms.
Following the criticism from parents, teachers, activists, legislators, and community members at a public comment session Thursday, the board voted to direct a revising of the standards. The new SOLs will build off of those that were proposed in August, correcting errors and filling in information that was omitted.
Robert N. Barnette Jr., president of education in the Virginia NAACP, said that revising the omissions are crucial to the education of state youth, as refusing to teach truth has the same effect as teaching lies.
“The alternative to promoting the teaching of social justice is promoting the teaching of social injustice, which is what effectively happens when diverse historical events and interpretations are eliminated from history curriculum.”