State Commission Issues Recommendations to Improve African American History Teaching


A state commission examining African American history education has published its report, issuing broad recommendations for state educational standards and for professional development of teachers.

The “Final Report of the Virginia Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth” is the result of a year-long effort started by Governor Ralph Northam.

The 81 page document includes specific technical edits. For example, first grade teachers should “[d]escribe how the relationship between diseases and weapons of the English settlers impacted the Virginia Indians.” Another section changes the way a Virginia Studies course should portray the causes of the Civil War.  The recommended change states, “Cultural, economic, and constitutional differences between the North and the South based in slavery eventually resulted in the Civil War.”

One of the recommendations for improving the professional development of teachers is to require all graduates to take an African American history credit, which could be filled by the new course recently announced by Northam.

One key element of the document is an educational strategy called “culturally responsive teaching.”

“[This is the] behavioral expressions of knowledge, beliefs, and values that recognize the importance of racial and cultural diversity in learning. [It is an] approach that emphasizes using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them,” the document states.

Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Mike Gonzalez said culturally responsive teaching is really pernicious.

“[Culturally responsive teaching] is based on the idea that kids from different groups are going to be taught differently …. History has to be explored, and researched, and scrutinized, and debated by all of us, by all Americans. So I am concerned.” Gonzalez is the author of The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics is Dividing the Land of the Free.

Gonzalez also said the report is based in an ideology that history has been told as a master narrative, and modern teachers need to counter that narrative. Gonzalez disagreed with the idea of competing narratives.

“No, there’s truth. Truth might be elusive, but we need to do our best to… arrive at it. Truth is arrived at by looking at primary materials, by primary sources, by reading the letter the colonists wrote… By looking at the letters written by runaway slaves.”

According to Gonzalez, telling different narratives to different children based on their cultural background repeats the mistakes of the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson decision that upheld racial segregation.

Gonzalez said the core figures around the founding of the U.S. and its ideology were White.

“There is no getting away from that. On the other hand, I definitely think that we don’t teach Frederick Douglass nearly enough … Frederick Douglass was an American, through and through. We don’t learn enough about W.E.B. Dubois. I don’t admire Dubois in the same way that I admire Douglass but I still think he’s a very important American and had an important influence in many cultural aspects …. He said things that are not taught nearly enough.”

Gonzalez pointed out that the word “cultural” appears in the report 80 times, while Frederick Douglass is only named four times.

“I’d like to see this taught more …. I’d like to see Douglass and MLK and Dubois and even Malcolm X’s own revolution because this is part of the American story… not to replace America, but to get at the truth.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected].







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