FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (WDVM) — After years of work, a group of social studies educators in Virginia will roll out a pilot curriculum this fall that presents U.S. history from diverse perspectives and encourages critical thinking. That group includes Fairfax County educators, led by the Albemarle Public School system.
Participating teachers will give feedback to be scaled the following school year. Students in grades three, four, six, seven, and 11 will be taught to address the implicit bias in the ways in which their lessons are presented to them, especially the ways historians have marginalized the stories of people of color.
Fairfax County Public School’s social studies coordinator Colleen Eddy says Virginia’s current standards of learning don’t do this. For example, fourth graders in Virginia are taught about slavery as an institution and not about the slave trade’s impact on Africans. Slavery is described as inexpensive labor that was necessary for Virginia’s tobacco economy.
“Clearly that is a terrible attempt to justify in the minds of children why Virginians chose slavery as a foundation for its economy,” Eddy said. “If we are telling our kids false stories of the past and they see the past as written in stone in terms of whether or not human beings had any agency over those stories and circumstances as they unfolded, they don’t necessarily understand their importance of changing circumstances in the present.”
The educators have also developed inquiries for students to think about, including: “How can we make the criminal justice system more just? What is the right way to resist? Was the New Deal fair, and How have African Americans constructed freedom?” The students’ responses will be a way of gauging how they responded to the material.
Virginia’s standards of learning are up for redevelopment to be published in 2022 and Eddy says the governor has commissioned historians to include more African American perspectives. Once published, the state’s textbooks will reflect the updates; however, Fairfax County teachers are encouraged to teach outside of the textbook.
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