Through Jenna Kunze
The Virginia Department of Education apologizes for a published draft of its history and social sciences standards that calls the region’s Native American ancestors “America’s first immigrants.”
The proposed standards, presented late Friday by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration, also require students to learn about Christopher Columbus’s “entrepreneurial qualities” and instruct teachers to engage in “open and balanced discussions.” on difficult issues, including discrimination and racism, and provide learning opportunities without personal or political bias.”
The Commonwealth of Virginia is home to seven federally recognized tribes: the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Nansemond, and Monacan.
Alton Carroll, a history professor at Northern Virginia Community College of Mescalero-Apache descent, recounted Local news online that his initial reading of the proposed standards struck him as being “so blatantly wrong and so heavily partisan”.
“The idea that Native Americans were immigrants and therefore have no more right to land than anyone else is a talking point for white supremacists,” Carroll said. “And for that to be reproduced by a governorship — it’s appalling.”
Chief Frank Adams of the Upper Mattaponi Indian tribe, headquartered in King William County, Virginia, told Native News Online that the language used to describe Native Americans in modern-day Virginia is harmful and inaccurate.
“I thought we’re making progress and then you read something that’s so derogatory and so ugly and it’s like, ‘How can educated people write those words on paper for the world to see? You can learn a lot of things, but it’s really hard to unlearn them.”
For the past year, a multi-stakeholder working group has been working to develop new learning standards for history and social sciences that Virginia updates every seven years. When the new standards were released late Friday evening, November 11, working group members were stunned by last-minute changes to the proposed text.
Virginia Senator Jennifer B. Boysko (D-Fairfax) said the new standards represent “dramatic changes” from those she helped draft on behalf of Virginia’s Advisory Committee on Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices, which is from 2021 to 2022 met the Ministry of Education to recommend new standards.
“We had been focused on making sure we were telling the stories of all types of people who live in Virginia, from our indigenous people and our more recent immigrants, people who came here in the 20th and 21st centuries,” Boysko said Local news online. “[We were] to focus on being inclusive and looking at history without trying to pretend it’s not painful. And I think a lot of that has been whitewashed.”
dr James Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, said that in contrast, the history standards presented that summer were “carefully and professionally prepared, the result of extensive input from both the state’s and our country’s finest historians and curriculum experts” and encouraged “rich discussions and critical thinking”.
At a Nov. 17 Board of Education hearing on the proposed standards, dozens of Virginians from Black, Asian American, Native American, Native American and other diverse communities showed up to testify. After the meeting, the board delayed implementation of the new draft and voted unanimously to direct the department to create new standards.
The board also asked the state superintendent to produce a crosswalk document comparing the August, November and combined drafts and to correct any factual errors and omissions found in both the August and November drafts, according to Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle were also noted in the November draft.
Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jillian Balow, apologized for the language in the draft standards, which described the ancestors of Virginia’s indigenous peoples as immigrants, and vowed to correct that error as soon as possible.
“She deeply regrets that the offensive language in the draft standards was not addressed and corrected before the document was released to the public,” Pyle told Native News Online. She directly regrets this error.”
Courtney Wynn, a registered citizen of the Chickahominy Indian tribe of Virginia, testified before the Board of Education on November 17 against the proposed standards.
said Wynn Local news online that the proposed regulations are “disheartening” as a product of the Virginia education system, which has already reduced Virginia Natives to a footnote in a textbook.
“Start [kindergarteners’] Education with an untruth that says we migrated here from Asia – that’s a reductive term and not true,” she said. “It is wiping out the civilizations that have been here for thousands of years, the inherent sovereignty of these nations. Words matter and those simple words have erased much of our history. I don’t want kindergarten kids learning about us to start learning an untruth.”
Chief Adams said he hopes the Department of Education will start from scratch and ask tribes and other stakeholders for their input.
“I’m not sure who is writing these standards, but it’s pretty obvious that they’re not in keeping with Virginia’s population climate, and it’s offensive,” he said. “I understand that writing the right standards is a very difficult process, but unless you use the expertise of the Latino community, the Black community, the Native American community, how can you ever expect to get a working standard ? You need to bring in the people who have lived it and who have been living the problems for generations.
Local news online also approached Gov. Youngkin’s office about the proposed educational standards, but received no response.
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