Last month Governor Ralph Northam announced the roll-out of a high school elective course on African American history. Sixteen school divisions are offering the course this fall.
Last year, the governor had directed the Virginia Department of Education, Virtual Virginia, WHRO Public Media, and a committee of historians to develop the course. Now complete, the course surveys African American history from precolonial Africa, the transatlantic slave trade, and American slavery through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights era to the present. States the Governor’s press release. “Students will learn about African American voices, including many not traditionally highlighted, and their contributions to the story of Virginia and America.”
That sounds anodyne enough. But this quote from Secretary of Education Atif Qarni hints at the ideological underpinnings of the course: “We can expect young Virginians to understand the enduring impacts of systemic racism only when they fully understand both the oppression experienced by African Americans and their significant contributions to STEM, the arts, education, law, and advocacy.”
To be sure, the oppression of African-Americans is part of Virginia and U.S. history. It needs to be taught, and not sugar-coated. Likewise, it is eminently reasonable to highlight the positive contributions of African-Americans to arts, culture, politics, business, and science. (Bacon’s Rebellion has highlighted the thinking of African-American businessman/entrepreneur B.K. Fulton making that very point.) Nobody but nobody wants to revive the long-discredited Moonlight-and-Magnolias version of Southern history that downplays past injustice and ignores the contributions of African-Americans.
What worries me is Qarni’s framing of the course: We can expect young Virginians to understand the enduring impacts of systemic racism only when…” Qarni’s supposition is that “systemic racism” is an ongoing phenomenon. While there can be no doubt that racial inequality persists, as does racial prejudice in some quarters, the view that “systemic racism” is the primary cause of inequality in 2020 is highly controversial. As we have repeatedly demonstrated on this blog, there are many other explanations for continued racial inequality, not the least of which is the utter failure of public policies espoused by those committed to the systemic-racism paradigm.
Moreover, there may be a world of difference between the confabulations of Northam’s press-release spinmeisters, who want to make the initiative palatable to the public, and the course as actually taught. A perusal of The Final Report of the Virginia Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth makes it clear that the courses will be ideologically loaded.
The report recommends a curriculum framework that incorporates several concepts which embrace the leftist perspective of history as the unfolding of various systems of exploitation. The concepts highlighted in the report include:
- Freedom — the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action.
- Imperialism — the extension of imposition of power, authority of influence by one nation or another.
- Nationalism — a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others.
- Colonialism — the acquisition of full or partial control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.
- Racism and systemic racism — prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race.
- Capitalism — an economic and political system motivated by profit and characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods.
- Economic motivation — the degree to which an individual is driven to gain money, things, or experiences for which a monetary value can be calculated.
- Citizenship — being conferred with rights, obligations, privileges and duties of a citizen.
- Servitude — a condition in which one lacks liberty.
- Enslavement — the forced process of positioning a person as the legal property of another.
- Advocacy — an activity by which an individual or group aims to influence decisions.
- Agency — the capacity of individuals to act independently and make free choices.
- Cultural expressionism — conveying culture through art, literature, music, linguistics, folkways, etc.
- Colonization — bringing into subjection or subjugation.
- Invasion — the use of force to enter and take control of another country.
There is nothing “wrong” with any of these concepts. They all describe historical phenomenon. The schema becomes problematic, however, if the concepts are the only prisms through which to students view African-American history, and downright dangerous if they are applied to taint whites with collective guilt for the deeds of their ancestors (even whites whose ancestors never owned slaves), or to imply that systemic racism (as opposed to individual expressions of racism) and economic exploitation based on race predominate to this day.
Sadly, there is every reason to believe that the teaching of these courses will be politically loaded.
The report articulates a “shared vision” for Virginia’s K-12 schools. One is to build “anti-racist” school communities. It is no longer acceptable to strive to treat students in a race-blind manner. The term “anti-racism” has a specific meaning. “Anti-racism acknowledges that racist beliefs and structure are pervasive in all aspects of our lives and requires action to dismantle those beliefs and structures,” states the report. “This requires that school leaders … dismantle systems perpetuating inequitable access to opportunity and outcomes for students historically marginalized by race.”
Note the emphasis on outcomes: Any disparities in outcomes between the races is assumed to be the result of prejudice, discrimination or institutional racism.
Further, schools must engage in “culturally relevant pedagogy.” Such pedagogy must “yield academic success for students,” “help students develop positive ethnic and cultural identities” — it’s not clear if the positive ethnic/cultural identities extends to whites — and “support students’ ability to recognize, understand, and critique current social inequalities.”
These things are givens. Never mentioned is the need to teach students to think critically and analytically, much less to draw independent conclusions about the nature of race in America. Never mentioned is the possibility that the United States and Virginia have made tremendous strides in granting equal rights to all. Exorcised from the discourse is any mention of evolving white views of race, or of decades of government anti-poverty programs, affirmative action programs, and private philanthropy all designed to create equal opportunities for African-Americans.
In sum, this Northam educational initiative is an ideological project that appears designed to cultivate grievance and victimhood among blacks, and guilt and submission among whites. Whether the African-American history course becomes in actual fact a vehicle for leftist indoctrination depends upon how it is taught. I will have more to say about that in a future post.There are currently no comments highlighted.