South Lakes to offer new Black history course

Virginia+Civil+Rights+Memorial+-+Image+via+Virginia+Is+For+Lovers

Virginia Civil Rights Memorial – Image via Virginia Is For Lovers

Helen Ehrlich, Editor-In-Chief

Virginia’s Commission on African American History Education has encouraged counties to provide African American History courses in schools. Fairfax County (FCPS) is now offering the course in its high schools, after petitions and requests from families demanded improved curriculum and an increase in anti-racist educational initiatives. South Lakes High School, which has a Black student population that makes up roughly 13% of the school, will offer a Black History course starting in the fall of 2021.

 

In 2019, Governor Northam directed the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to develop a African American history course for high schools. It was made with input from the Virtual Virginia education program, WHRO Public Media, as well as select teachers, professors and historians. It is currently available to 16 school divisions, but not across the entirety of the commonwealth. Fairfax County was not one of the pilot divisions, but they will be providing it next year.  The Commission said they would like to make it a requirement  for students to take the class in order to graduate, similar to passing CPR requirements or personal finance.

 

The Educational Board will be reviewing and approving new courses in 2022, so the state will not have officially approved the materials until then. Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni said there are also not enough teachers who are qualified to teach the subject, so they will have to work to improve that issue before they can mandate its inclusion in schools. FCPS has repeatedly been condemned for their lack of diversity in their faculty, as their hiring practices were found to be racist against Black educators. The students who petitioned for this new course say that a lack of Black teachers is part of the issue, “I think you have to have people that are experienced, who truly know the history, who stand fast and understand who they are, such that they can present this history and such that they can present a perspective, from an African American point of view. If you’ve never experienced some of these things and you’re called upon to teach them in a classroom, all teachers are not comfortable teaching something that they do not have the depth of knowledge to teach.”

Image via The New York Times

The class is set to be available to all students at South Lakes, regardless of their educational track. However, there will be some scheduling hindrances for IB students. A lack of equitable access to classes has been one of the largest critiques of FCPS, as activists say that students who are not in higher level classes have educational gaps relating to Black history. Making the course an elective opens the class to all students. South Lakes’ Social Studies Department Chair Andrea Parent explained, “All students, grades nine through 12 are able to take this course as a Social Studies elective. Unfortunately it does not replace any of the state or FCPS graduation requirements for a Standard or Advanced Diploma. It is a one credit, year long elective course.”

 

The state and FCPS said that the course will help to expand what is currently covered. Ms. Parent shared what the class will feature, “The full curriculum hasn’t been released yet… it should be soon.  At this point, this is the description that has been developed – Key concepts in African American history will be covered, from early beginnings in Africa through the transatlantic slave trade, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights era to the present. Students will learn about African American voices, including many not traditionally highlighted, and their contributions to the story of Virginia and America.”

 

Ms. Parent emphasized the importance of offering such a class, “The course was created by the state of Virginia. According to Governor Northam, ‘Black history is American history, but for too long, the story we have told was insufficient and inadequate.  The introduction of this groundbreaking course is a first step toward our shared goal of ensuring all Virginia students have a fuller, more accurate understanding of our history, and can draw important connections from those past events to our present day.’ I completely agree with this… It is important for students to see themselves, their history, and their opinions of it in the curriculum they study. I hope we develop more courses like this as well as incorporate more voices and perspectives into the courses we already teach…We are hoping more positive changes will be made.”

 

Virginia is a state that has one of the largest Black populations in the nation, with a rich Black history. As the commonwealth and Fairfax County work to address the racism ingrained in their history and many systems, providing more diversity in education is a step in the right direction.