Lame Responses to Youngkin’s History SOL Standards

1607 and All That: the Susan Constant

by James A. Bacon

The Youngkin administration has laid out the thinking behind its revisions to the History and Social Studies Standards of Learning tests. The broad thrust is to educate students on how Virginia and the United States came to have the institutions they have. Underlying assumptions are that (1) representative government, property rights, free markets, human rights, and the rule of law are good things; and (2) while there is much to regret about American history, there is much to celebrate and uphold. Teachers will be expected to teach the good with the bad, not to “bury” unpleasant aspects of our history. They also will be expected to conduct “open and balanced discussion” on controversial topics, not to indoctrinate.

As The Washington Post reports today, not everyone is happy with this approach.

Perhaps the most vehement critic of Team Youngkin’s philosophy is James J. Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association — a union representing the more than 40,000 education workers across Virginia who will be tasked with teaching to the new standards.

“The standards are full of overt political bias, outdated language to describe enslaved people and American Indians, highly subjective framing of American moralism and conservative ideals, coded racist overtures throughout, requirements for teachers to present histories of discrimination and racism as ‘balanced’ ‘without personal or political bias,’ and restrictions on allowance of ‘teacher-created curriculum,’ which is allowed in all other subject areas,” he said.

Translation: Fedderman has his own biases about the way history should be taught, and he wants the SOLs to reflect his preference to teach history and social studies as a form of oppression studies. His goal is not to build better citizens but to build better social justice warriors. The disconnect between Fedderman’s view of the world and Governor Glenn Youngkin’s is so profound that I don’t see how a productive dialogue can ever take place.

Remarks by Senator Jennifer B. Boysko, D-Fairfax, are in the same vein. She was disappointed, she told the WaPo, that the new standards didn’t address “the contributions of the large and varied communities from Central and South Asia who are a significant part of Virginia’s population.”

I’m guessing she has a lot of Asians in her senatorial district. Otherwise, this comment is inexplicable. In contrast to Blacks and Whites, whose history reaches back 400 years, the migration of Asians (and Latin Americans) into Virginia is such a recent phenomenon that it’s fair to say they played no significant role throughout most of Virginia’s history. Undoubtedly, Asians will play an increasing role in the years ahead, and the teaching of history inevitably will reflect that.

Boysko also criticized the new standards for not emphasizing the responsibilities students have as citizens “to participate fully in society,” according to the WaPo. “What I want to see is that all students understand that they can contribute to making the world a better place as opposed to just memorizing facts and dates about people who have contributed to history.”

Translation: She would like to see more student activism. Just like Fedderman. At least as long as it’s the right kind of activism, which would be fighting for the same center-left causes that she embraces.

Many Virginians would agree with me that student activism is fine, as long as students are acting of their own volition and not encouraged by teachers and administrators to participate in particular political causes and not others. You know what else is desirable? Learning. Imparting knowledge should be the core mission of schools and teachers, not raising the next generation of left-of-center activists.

I also found revealing this comment from Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington: “The effort to revive (revise?) social studies content is the latest in a series of efforts by the governor to shape education along the lines of his preferences. The governor may be walking into a fight with educators, but that can’t possibly be a surprise to him at this point.”

Hmmm. What is Farnsworth implying here? That the existing social studies curriculum was free of bias before Youngkin started meddling with it? That former Governor Ralph Northam had not tried to revise the SOL standards according to his preferences? Farnworth’s remark tells us more about where Farnsworth is coming from ideologically than it does about the SOL standards.

If this is the most trenchant criticism that Post can find, then I don’t think Youngkin has much to worry about.

Indeed a comment to the Post from Ian Prior, founder of the conservative advocacy group Fight for Schools, likely expresses the views of most Virginians:

History is a function of human nature, conflict, and progress. It can be inspiring, it can be dark, and it can be challenging to teach and learn. Applied correctly by educators in the classroom, [the proposed changes] will unlock key critical thinking skills that students can use to make their own analysis and decisions as they mature into young leaders.

What a remarkable idea — teach young people to think for themselves. I’ll take that side of the debate any day.

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27 responses to “Lame Responses to Youngkin’s History SOL Standards”

  1. How are these five assumptions letting children think for themselves? If a student draws the conclusion that maybe the free market is bad, does that constitute a failure in your eyes?

    1. I wondered the exact same thing. These aren’t principles, they’re ideological beliefs.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        You beat me to it.


        Attributing “good” to the “free market” is an example of trying to influence the teaching of it.

        Conservatives cannot seem to be objective about these issues, cannot seem to WANT to be objective.

        And it gets much worse when talking about race and oppression… just simple facts laid out – without commentary or opinion.

        1. It’s such gaslighting–let’s be objective by massively editorializing and calling it “principles” instead of opinion. Mind you, I believe in the free market (with caveats), but it’s belief one should be forced to defend, not assume the truth of.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            teaching the facts about racism is in their minds “indoctrination” and CRT.

            gaslighting… and used as
            political weapons in elections by Youngkin himself so yeah, letting him mess with how history is taught ….geeze…

        2. DJRippert Avatar

          Nice try. Here is the actual quote:

          “Free enterprise, property rights and the rule of law enable an economic system that allocates assets through free markets and competition and fosters innovation, opportunity and efficiency. Centralized government planning in the form of socialism or communist political systems is incompatible with democracy and individual freedoms.”

          I’m sorry, where is the word “good”.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            “The broad thrust is to educate students on how Virginia and the United States came to have the institutions they have. Underlying assumptions are that (1) representative government, property rights, free markets, human rights, and the rule of law are good things, “

          2. DJRippert Avatar

            That is Jim Bacon’s interpretation of what should be realized, not what the actual policy says. At least, it seems that way.

          3. James McCarthy Avatar
            James McCarthy

            Y’all missed the quotation marks around “good.” Don’t try so hard to parse sentences and lose meaning.

          4. DJRippert Avatar

            The comment string started with a comment, by Rosie, on the five assumptions. I don’t know what five assumptions Rosie describes. Maybe they are in the Washington Post article. I wouldn’t know. I don’t subscribe to the Washington Post. In the prior blog post on this topic there are eight principles. I assume that this is the list to which Rosie refers but I could be wrong. Jim Bacon listed two assumption which were clearly his interpretation.

            Larry added, “Attributing “good” to the “free market” is an example of trying to influence the teaching of it.”

            The only place I see the attribution of “good” to the “free market” is in Jim Bacon’s commentary, not in the five assumptions (which, I assume, are actually the eight principles).

            Since Jim B is not trying to teach students American history, Larry’s use of his opinion as an example of trying to influence the teaching of anything is wrong.

          5. To clarify my remarks, I based my statement in part upon the following principle articulated by the Youngkin administration: “Free enterprise, property rights and the rule of law enable an economic system that allocates assets through free markets and competition and fosters innovation, opportunity and efficiency. Centralized government planning the form of socialism or communist political systems is incompatible with democracy and individual freedoms.”

            That statement makes no value judgment. But in the context of Team Youngkin’s value systems, I think it’s fair to say that they think free enterprise, property rights and rule of law are “good” things.

            Does that mean the state will begin indoctrinating students with Ayn Randian principles? It implies no such thing. What it implies is that Team Youngkin wants to ensure that students are able to compare and contrast market-based systems with socialist economic systems.

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            I think the “statement of principles” DO border on subjective thinking especially since none of them was to actually acknowledge that history taught in the past in Va lied and misrepresented , aka revisionist history AND should say first and foremost that Va is DONE with that and no attempt to “interpret” or “explain” would be done. Explicitly NOT done!

            Just lay out the facts and let students ask the questions and start to form THEIR own value judgements as they get older and learn more.

            We have grown adults in this country who don’t know actual documented history and, in fact, dispute it as the truth BECAUSE of what they were taught in school that actually was lies.

            Conservatives freak out about this truthful telling of history characterizing it as “hating” America, It is no such thing, it’s the very opposite. Any contemplative person not consumed by partisan thinking and culture war will see it as an America that always strives to get better and to further achieve it’s lofty principles and SHOW THE WORLD that such a country can and does exist and other countries can also.

            Conservatives seem to want doctored history. They say they don’t but it’s been the way they have done history forever and it my mind, right now today, all these lies and disinformation and outright conspiracy theories are largely coming from the right and largely representative of conservativism today!

            How many Dems running for office today are avowed election deniers?

            How many deny climate change even as the vast majority of most voters believe it’s real?

            Conservatives are not only out of touch, they lie about it and yes, they’re inclined to want to “explain” history for fear that if they don’t the kids will get the “wrong” idea.

            It’s endemic in Conservatism IMO.

    2. James McCarthy Avatar
      James McCarthy

      Absolutely!!! No stinkin’ regulated markets in the Commonwealth. Abolish the regulations that have caused VA to be lower in the #1 business rankings. Conservative and libertarian orthodoxy must prevail. Children will be learned by the curriculum.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Not to put too fine of an edge on it, but slaves were purchased on a free market.

  3. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    This lame attempt to wash a new curriculum with platitudes about American exceptionalism and the aspirational phrases in the D of I and Constitution are typical of libertarian/conservative manifesto. The US would be a different nation had these “principles” been employed in its relationship with Native Americans or even those folks shanghaied to Jamestown as property.

    The distance between the cup and the lip in this regard is not merely an assertion that such behavior was “accepted” at the time but that it continues to be denied in abeyance to avoiding discomfort in schools and job sites.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Nobody debates whether slavery was accepted at the time. Nobody continues to deny either slavery or its acceptance at the time.

      What are you talking about?

    2. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Yep, silliness on both sides. Hey, it’s keeping the Left in power so I’m not surprised the “America Sucks” theme is an essential part of the plan. It worked for the the other communist movements…Just as the equally ideological MAGA theme has its utility for that movement. You guys need a blue hat with that on it! “America Sucks.”

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    I like Ian Prior’s quote. It captures an important essence that is missing in today’s history classrooms.

  5. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    One thing I learned at VDOE, you can change anything and any test, but tread lightly when discussing the history standards. Those standards bring out two opposing sides. You won’t win.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I’d be curious as to how they will depict the taking down of Confederate Iconography or Black Lives Matter or Jan 6 climate denial, election denial, etc…

      lots of stuff there to recount historically.

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        The teaching of History normally stops two or thee decades before current times in order the develop perspective.

  6. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Tragic to contemplate that my knowledge of history, U.S. or otherwise, could have been formed by and ended with my school classroom experiences. I never took it as a class past high school, after all. Just kept reading and traveling. (Lots from movies, too. Hollywood always gets it right, doesn’t it?) What a bunch of silliness on both sides….neither able to give up the use of history as an ideological weapon.

    1. James McCarthy Avatar
      James McCarthy

      The issue is not surrender but acknowledgment that curriculum content control may be ideological.

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Maybe because “history”, as taught in school, is a collection of useless trivia about kings, potentates, generals and various other flotsam and jetsam of human existence?

      Ideas, events, people — the subject matter of the mind beginning from the great ones to the petty in that order.

  7. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    Jim, we should just go ahead and add the comments of the basement progressives on anything we write. They are utterly predictable, and it would save space.

    1. Cancel culture at work!

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