Opinion | Virginia’s proposed history ‘guidelines’ would cause real harm

As a student of history and a citizen of Virginia for more than 60 years, I am concerned about the recent draft “Guiding Principles” for Virginia’s 2022 history standards [“State education board delays review of new history standards,” Metro, Nov. 18].

Reading these “principles” took me back to the old days of teaching history, when “great men” drove events, the United States’ past was unblemished and inspirational tales abounded. This, of course, was less history than indoctrination, and the “guidelines” would have taken us right back there.

An example is its gap in teaching world history. By third grade, children learn about Greece and Rome, but the rest of the world waits until high school. Yet grades four through six offer U.S. history, which you can’t teach without placing it in the context of Indigenous civilizations, the kingdoms of West Africa and European rivalries in the West Indies. To do so results in a narrow racial and cultural picture. The Natives of Virginia did not spontaneously generate. Enslavement in West Africa took many forms, but none were hereditary, race-based chattel slavery. And Virginia’s economy was part of an international accumulation of capital that underpinned the Industrial Revolution.

The kind of teaching proposed (and now rejected) isn’t just bad history; it would have stunted students’ appreciation of other cultures, and that, in turn, would have a real impact in adulthood, in how they would deal with customers, co-workers, neighbors and newcomers. It’s not just about losing the real story; it’s about losing an important tool for getting along in real life.

Michael Schaffner, Arlington

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