Virginia Governor Appointee Calls for ‘Traditional American Values’ in History Curriculum

The Virginia Board of Education has voted to delay its timeline for completion of the state’s new history curriculum after some members expressed concern and raised objections over new perspectives on history. 

The board, which now has a majority of members appointed by Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, voted to delay the final form of the curriculum until January 2023, two months after the original deadline for November of this year. 

Board president Daniel Gecker, appointed by former governor Ralph Northam, addressed concerns that the board had only meddled with the curriculum for political reasons. “The comments that we are changing or not teaching all history are incorrect. The process we’ve been involved in now has been strictly related to what the document looks like, the form of the document.”

“In my opinion, at this point, the claims that there have been substantive changes to the document to reflect what people’s view of current views is just categorically incorrect,” continued Gecker.

The Department of Education official in charge of the social sciences curriculum, Christonya Brown, confirmed Gecker’s comments, saying no changes had been made since the new board majority took over besides correcting unintentional mistakes. 

Instead, the department said it has focused on splitting the standards and curriculum — or “decoupling” the documents, so they are easier for teachers to understand and interpret. “It’s separated,” said Brown. “But it’s still the same content as that document we brought to you in August.”

Next up, the department will hold a public open comment period until September 25. In November, the board will host community roundtables where the public will be allowed to give direct feedback on the decoupled documents. 

In December, following the public comment period will hold public hearings and meet with the Historian Steering Committee for a final review, with a goal of final approval happening in January. “We’re looking at no more than a month’s delay, which isn’t bad. I don’t think it puts us in a bad position,” said Brown.

Northam appointee Anne Holton asked Brown if she thought any significant changes might need to be made based on feedback from the public. 

“I don’t anticipate any major changes or deletion of content. From what we’ve seen from public comments…it was more of expanding and being more inclusive of other peoples, events, and cultures,” said Brown.

Board member expresses concern, opposition

Board member Suparna Dutta expressed serious opposition to the proposed curriculum. During a meeting, Dutta said, “What is a little disconcerting to me is that these themes and concepts talk about questionable concepts like conflict and power relationships and highlighting colonialism, imperialism, servitude, enslavement, nationalism, racism, cultural expressionism or like, basic economic principles.”

She added that she would rather see social studies curriculum based on “traditional American values,” including “individual liberty and economic freedom.” Before being appointed by Gov. Youngkin in July, Dutta was an outspoken voice in Fairfax County against equity-promoting efforts at Thomas Jefferson High School, a competitive and highly selected magnet school. A year before the pandemic, in 2019, only 1.72% of the student body was Black — even though 9% of the county is. 

Dutta also opposed the growing shift toward “inquiry-based learning,” a teaching method that “encourages students to engage in problem-solving and experimental learning.”

Brown responded to Dutta’s comments by saying, “Just to reiterate, the move or the shift to inquiry-based practices is not something that just came out of this team.” She added that the moves were based on recommendations and research from the National Council for Social Studies. 

Meanwhile, Dutta called the method “backward” and questioned the Virginia Department of Education’s cooperation with the National Council for the Social Sciences. “There’s a lot of stuff on their website that’s disturbing to me. It talks about the narrative ‘told through the lens of those who created and continue to benefit from American cultural institutions.’ It says ‘White, financially secure, Christian, heterosexual, cisgender males.’”

As the meeting came to a close, president of the board, Gecker, pushed back against calls to change the curriculum, mainly from Dutta. “I would like to remind the board members that our job at this point is not to make individual editing changes to the document. I mean, that is still within the purview of the staff.”

Gecker added that the board could make some changes later in the process but should work together toward shared goals already fulfilled by the new curriculum. “I just don’t believe that the views of history on this board or frankly in the commonwealth are so different that we can’t reach common ground in an amicable way,” he said.