This letter was also sent to the Members of the Virginia Board of Education on December 21, 2022.
As the state humanities council for over forty-five years, Virginia Humanities has always advocated for the humanities. Sometimes topics in the humanities—such as history and how it is taught—intersect with public policy. The Standards of Learning for History and Social Sciences are an area of public policy that have a direct impact on humanities education in Virginia.
After evaluating both the August and November proposals to revise the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL), Virginia Humanities believes that the August proposal and its integrated curriculum offer the strongest foundation for both a new set of learning standards and the future of Virginia’s students. The history in the August version is more expansive and representative of who Virginians are. Experienced teachers, scholars, and members of the Virginia public worked together over many months to create this document and their process was deliberate and transparent as they engaged with and incorporated suggestions from the public.
To prepare our youth for challenges they will face in the workforce and in life, it is vital that teachers teach our students critical thinking using evidence-based learning full of the rich and diverse histories of our state, nation, and world. As Governor Youngkin has rightly said, we need to “teach all of our history, the good and the bad.” The August proposal encompasses more of our history than any standard has, to date. For the first time, the great plurality of Virginia’s student body would see themselves represented in the history they are learning.
To teach this content well, teachers also need an integrated roadmap. The History and Social Science Standards of Learning and integrated curriculum from August provides that roadmap. This integrated curriculum underscores the critical thinking and project-based learning methods necessary to ensure students are not mere memorizers, but inquisitive problem solvers—something they will need throughout their lives.
Since our inception, Virginia Humanities has worked with thousands of Virginians from all walks of life who are passionate about personal, local, and state history. Among these Virginians are many dedicated teachers and scholars who have helped us build free, comprehensive, authoritative, and living resources such as Encyclopedia Virginia. Through our work and resources such as EV, we believe that history and the humanities should challenge assumptions, inspire curiosity and creativity, and generate questions about the world we all live in. We believe that a rich humanities education should help shape and strengthen minds as they engage with and learn from primary sources and human experiences.
We also believe that expertise matters and can guide the formulation of new ideas. Given the subject expertise and classroom experience of the teachers and scholars—many of whom we have worked with in the past—who created the August Standards of Learning and integrated curriculum, and the thorough and transparent process they led with the public, we believe the August proposal provides a strong foundation for Virginia’s history education.
Science and engineering classrooms champion inquiry-based problem solving rooted in experimentation, data gathering and analysis, and empirical evidence. We believe students should have a similar type of rich inquiry-based experience in humanities and social science classrooms. Such a learning environment should give students access to fact-based and expansive histories of all Virginians. Such an environment should also engage and challenge young minds to be critical and creative. An education like this is not about preparing students to select correct historical dates on a multiple-choice test; it is about preparing them to be civically engaged and thoughtful members of society as they learn from and about cultures that are different from their own and wrestle with the past and how that past informs our future.
Like everyone in this great commonwealth, we at Virginia Humanities want the best for our students. We would be happy to provide further input and resources as the Virginia Board of Education decides what will be taught, today, and what the legacy of that education will be, tomorrow.
Matthew S. Gibson