How Virginia’s history textbooks are vetted

Gov. Ralph Northam said recently he was concerned students were learning incorrect information...
Gov. Ralph Northam said recently he was concerned students were learning incorrect information about African-American history. (Mechelle Hankerson/ Virginia Mercury)
Published: May. 2, 2019 at 2:12 PM EDT
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Throughout Virginia’s approved history textbooks are mischaracterizations and missing information about major events in African-American (and other groups’) history, state officials and educators say. The state’s Standards of Learning, which are supposed to be reflected in the books, make only passing references to African Americans, some scholars said.

That’s become an issue for Gov. Ralph Northam, who says he is on his own journey to better understand racial history and how it still affects the state in the wake of his blackface scandal.

Northam’s racial reconciliation efforts have included private meetings with black community leaders, cancelled speaking engagements at historically black colleges and universities and a list of legislative priorities he’s tried to support through his vetoes and approvals.

At a community meeting in Danville, Northam said that he’s noticed information students are being taught about African American history is “inadequate and often times inaccurate,” the Danville Register & Bee reported.

Virginia’s curriculum often skips over major events in black history and leaves out some information, said Ofirah Yheskel, the governor’s press secretary.

At an event hosted by the American Civil War Museum last month, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni agreed that Virginia’s history education guidelines are lacking.

“It really doesn’t give our children a sense that our nation has a complicated history,” Qarni said. “We don’t give a full contextual understanding.”

That bears out in Virginia’s approved textbooks, which wasn’t Northam’s focus, but were at the center of a controversy in 2010 for including incorrect information about slaves’ involvement in the Civil War.

“Part of a high-quality education is ensuring students and teachers can have meaningful conversations about race, equity and our history,” spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in an email. “The governor is considering a wide range of avenues to support these conversations in our classrooms.”