Jay Mathews’s Oct. 2 Education column, “Virginia is killing its much-maligned — but much-needed — U.S. history tests,” struck a core reality: the growing ignorance of our roots and evolution. Mr. Mathews revealed how Virginia’s legislature decided in 2014 to reduce testing pressures. This resulted in the elimination of the state’s U.S. history tests at all levels and U.S. and Virginia history exams in high school. This unfortunate decision further exacerbates the issue. The commonwealth’s chief academic officer, Steve Constantino, said, “Teachers I have spoken to are eager to teach their content and assess their students in a more authentic and engaging manner.”
These responses in our increasingly complex and conflictive times only facilitate further societal “dumbing down” trends. Today, many universities do not require any U.S. history courses. Also, we see increased use and acceptance of diverse social media, related “alternative facts,” incomplete aspects of “American exceptionalism” and ideological divisiveness, all of which usually lack historical grounding.
Accordingly, at least an initial framework is needed for a better understanding of Virginia’s “mother lode” of U.S. history, including the Founding Fathers and their archetypal contributions, slavery and its political economy, Civil War dynamics and Jim Crow legacies. While, as Mr. Mathews stated, other states had admired Virginia’s approach, in today’s setting a much greater basic knowledge framework is required. Our legislators and officials have let us down.
David Bathrick, Alexandria