Commission on African American History Education makes recommendations for curriculum and development

Education

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/WAVY) — The Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth presented their final report to Gov. Ralph Northam, the Virginia Board of Education and advocates on Monday.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, the report includes the commission’s findings and recommendations on how to make Virginia’s history and social science curriculum more culturally competent.

“This unprecedented time of crisis has given all of us an opportunity to renew our focus on breaking down structural inequities and telling a more honest Virginia story in our classrooms,” Northam said.

Just over a year ago, the governor signed Executive Order 39 to establish the commission, which was tasked with improving the way African American history is taught in Virginia schools. The commission worked to examine Virginia’s history standards and professional development practices. Members of the commission included university professors, historians, advocates, school board members, faith leaders and K-12 educators from around the state.

In the commission meeting, Northam said it was important for students to learn about Virginia’s complicated history, which hasn’t always been taught properly.

“Virginia is a place of contradiction and complexities. It’s the place where the enslaved Africans first landed and American representative democracy was born. Virginia is where emancipation began and the Confederate capital was located. Virginia is the place where schools were closed under massive resistance rather than desegregate and allow Black children to attend. It is the state which elected the nation’s first African American governor,” he said. “We have to teach the complexities to our children and often adults and parents. I always say, when we know more, we can do more.”

After a year of work the commission submitted a number of recommendations for education standards and professional development. The governor’s office highlighted the following:

  1. Making recommendations and technical edits for enriched standards related to African American history;
  2. Identifying how the standards can be organized and improved to ensure that African American history is a cohesive part of the teaching of all history;
  3. Revising of the full history and social studies standards review process to be more inclusive of diverse perspectives; and
  4. Recommending the addition of professional development and instructional supports to equip all educators to create and sustain culturally responsive pedagogy and gain appropriate foundational knowledge in African American history.

“The Commission’s recommendations will ensure that Virginia’s history standards reflect the complexity of our past, help students understand how present-day challenges are connected to this history, and provide teachers with more resources to engage in anti-racist work,” Northam said.

The governor’s office says that once these are implemented the recommendations will enable all students and educators across the Commonwealth to develop a comprehensive understanding of the African American voices that contribute to Virginia’s story.

“Students will develop greater empathy for their neighbors, and a deeper understanding of their ancestors,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “They will come to realize how they can be part of the solution and help create a better Virginia moving forward.”

The list of recommendations was developed after a series of public meetings and surveys to obtain feedback from students, educators and families.

According to the release, commission members also helped guide and review content for a new high school-level African American history elective course that Governor Northam directed VDOE to develop last year. The course will be taught in 16 Virginia school divisions during the 2020-2021 academic year.

“This moment we find ourselves in requires that we move with urgency to eradicate all forms of systemic racism from our public schools,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “These recommendations support efforts already underway at the Department of Education to advance anti-racism in our schools, increase the cultural proficiency of Virginia’s educators, and deepen the cultural inclusivity in our standards of learning curriculum.”

The governor also stressed the importance of teaching children this history at an early age to help build more inclusive atmospheres at schools.

“The hatred and bigotry is learned behavior. These children are not born with that. That’s why it’s important for us to reach out at an early age for them to learn how important they are and understand Virginia history,” he said.

During the meeting, Qarni said that the Standard’s of Learning are revised every seven years, with revisions coming up in 2022.

He also said that recommendations will be included in legislation in 2021.


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