Youngkin Wins Culture-War Skirmish Over History Standards

by James A. Bacon

The State Board of Education (SBOE) voted 5 to 3 yesterday to accept the revised history and social science standards for the Standards of Learning, representing a victory for the Youngkin administration in a contentious debate over what Virginia students should be taught in K-12 schools.

Various advocacy groups have criticized the standards for “whitewashing” American history, downplaying the evils of slavery, segregation and racism. It’s not clear from their published comments what, specifically, they are referring to,  or even if they have read the new standards as opposed to recycling old talking points. The new standards, retorts the Youngkin team, will in fact expand upon the current coverage of those topics to include more about Martin Luther King, Jr., and the history of indigenous peoples.

Whatever the validity of their critique, the usual suspects are very unhappy. Reports the Virginia Mercury:

“What the Youngkin administration is doing is what the DeSantis administration is doing,” said Mayka Little, a Democratic candidate for House District 19,  referring to Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has publicly criticized what he calls “woke” ideas and “indoctrination” in schools. “They are just being more underhanded about it,” she said.

Having perused the standards, I think they they could do more to explain the dynamics of wealth creation, innovation, and market economics. Lefties take for granted the creation of the wealth they are so keen to redistribute. In my humble opinion, school children should learn that our high standard of living comes not from political activism but from productivity, innovation and (mostly) free markets.

Whatever. No school curriculum can make everyone entirely happy.

No school curriculum can give content that highly opinionated people (like Little — and myself) value the full attention we believe it warrants. But the Youngkin administration has made a good-faith effort to accomplish the impossible. Overall, the revised standards will give students a solid grounding in U.S. and world history, the U.S. system of government, and the U.S economic system.

Lefties accuse the Youngkin administration of wanting to “indoctrinate” Virginia’s school children. The irony here, of course, is that proponents of the “anti-racism” movement would suffuse the entire curriculum, pedagogy, teacher training, disciplinary policies, and administrative protocols of Virginia’s public schools with its ideological premises regarding white supremacy, whiteness, and racial oppression while declaring contradictory views racist, hence impermissible.

Many critics of the Youngkin standards, I suspect, would be displeased with any standards that fall short of the 1619 Project interpretation of history that sees America as irredeemably stained by slavery and racism from its founding to the present.

We live in politically and ideologically polarized times. Division and discord are inherent in an educational system that is provided by the state. Competing factions inevitably will fight for control of what the state teaches.

One alternative would be to allow parents to send their children to schools of their choice, in effect tolerating a diversity of educational philosophies. If lefties want to send their kids to Karl Marx Elementary or Franz Fanon Middle School, they should be free to do so. Likewise, conservatives should be allowed to send their kids to Adam Smith Academy or the School of Christian Virtues.

Republicans, conservatives and the Youngkin administration are not bent upon stamping a uniform ideology upon the state. To the contrary, they support expanding freedom of educational choice — even for those who disagree with them!  But freedom of educational choice is something the administration’s foes cannot abide any more than a view of history that does not advance their ideology. There is only one truth, and only they know what it is.

The Youngkin administration has won this skirmish but the culture wars rage on.