- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2001

Dozens of parents and educators overall gave plaudits to proposed revisions of the Virginia Standards of Learning curriculums last night but argued that more-inclusive changes should be made to the final draft.

At a public hearing at Falls Church High School, some educators said the changes, which were released last month, do not include the contributions of minorities and omit what they called "key political figures" in Virginia's history.

Carla Garfield, a fourth-grade teacher at Columbia Elementary School in Annandale, told representatives of the state Board of Education she was surprised that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was not mentioned in the revisions.

"Lee was a major player in the Civil War history," she said. "He was commander of the army of Virginia. Why would you leave him out?"

Other educators, including Sara Shoob, a coordinator of social studies in Fairfax County, said she wanted to see more women and Hispanics mentioned in the fourth-through-12th-grade curriculum.

"Not one woman is mentioned by name above the third-grade level," she said.

Ms. Shoob also pointed out that the revisions do not mention the impact that westward expansion had on American Indians. "It makes you wonder," she said after the hearing.

A group of Armenian parents and students pushed for inclusion of the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century. They said it is as important a part of history as the Holocaust.

The Armenians made up close to half of the audience, and each spoke in support of including their history along with other cultures.

The comments come after a state Board of Education committee recommended rewriting the history curriculum from kindergarten to 12th grade. The proposed changes are designed to address concerns that the 1995 standards were too broad and failed to reflect cultural diversity.

For example, the 1995 history standards called for third-graders to study the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome. The revisions would add, among other things, the early West African empire of Mali.

The proposed changes also would exclude the names of Confederate Gens. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart as well as Lee from fourth-grade discussions of the Civil War. The three most beloved political and military heroes would be taught in fifth grade, under the revision, so fourth-graders would get a "simplified" version of Virginia history, the committee said in issuing revisions to the state's Standards of Learning for History.

Some teachers last night wanted to know the criteria for omitting key political figures.

"How do you decide who to mention and who not to mention?" Ms. Garfield asked. "We're talking about Robert E. Lee here."

The changes represent the most substantial revisions to date in Virginia's 1995 effort to impose statewide standards and testing for public school students.

The board is expected to vote on the changes next month.

The committee decided teachers should focus on other historical names, including women, and on places on the globe that reveal cultural diversity.

First-graders, for example, would learn about the American Indian princess Pocahontas and not just Capt. John Smith, Virginia's most famous settler. Under the proposed changes, they also would begin to develop map skills, an element currently taught in kindergarten.

Second-graders would learn the uplifting tale of Helen Keller who was born blind, deaf and mute, but who learned to speak through determination and courage. Second-graders would continue to study the lives of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.

Third-graders would learn about the highly developed West African empire of Mali, to show the continent was not just a backward supplier of slaves. New third-grade standards also would require students to identify the contributions of Thomas Jefferson, Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall, Washington and King.

Also under the revised SOLs, more emphasis would be bestowed on the Indus Valley, an ancient civilization between India and Pakistan that disappeared thousands of years ago.

History and social science SOL tests typically have had the lowest scores among all SOLs. Last year, an average 49 percent of the state's fifth-graders failed the test, as did 50 percent of eighth-graders. High school students in some parts of the state did worse, posting failure rates of 60 percent on average.

The Virginia Department of Education adopted Standards of Learning in history, English, science and math in 1995 as part of a major overhaul of the education system.

Tests based on the standards have been administered since 1998. By 2004, all high school students will have to pass the tests to graduate.

One of the reasons behind the revisions, state officials said, was to introduce children to other cultures.

Second-graders learning geography would be asked to locate China and Egypt on world maps and where Powhatan, Sioux and Pueblo Indians lived on U.S. maps.

Third-graders would have to know the parts of the Americas explored by Christopher Columbus, Juan Ponce de Leon, Jacques Cartier and Christopher Newport.

Students in higher grades would learn about Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism under world history.


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