Northam’s Commission on African American History Education holds first listening session

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ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Members of Virginia’s Commission on African American History Education held the group’s first of five statewide listening sessions Tuesday at the Harrison Museum of African American Culture.

Governor Northam created the commission by Executive Order on August 24, 2019, charging it with “reviewing Virginia’s history standards, and the instructional practices, content, and resources currently used to teach African American history in the Commonwealth; and with examining and make recommendations on the professional development supports needed to equip all teachers for culturally competent instruction.”

“It’s something that students need to get to know, as far as their history,” said Derek Hairston, a teacher at Christiansburg High School.

He sat on the night’s panel along with a number of other educators to help drive discussion.

“It’s definitely a good idea. In fact, this is something- work that should have been done years ago, possibly overall,” he said.

The panel weighed in on things like how to bring up difficult racial questions in classrooms, how to use local African American history in a lesson, and how to weave it all into a more permanent curriculum.

“I am getting ready to at least put together a new course offering in Montgomery County dealing with African-American studies,” he said.

For the second half of the meeting, though, more than a dozen audience members offered comments while the rest of the room listened, including Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni.

“Black history is American history, but it’s often times hidden and untold,” he said.

He said his department is considering a more linear approach to history, like how the American Revolution is connected to the civil rights movement.

In terms of timing, he says revisions to standards are done every seven years, so the impact of the listening sessions could be felt sooner rather than later.

“So the timing is perfect, where the recommendations are there and the Department of Education knows what the recommendations are,” he said.

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