Early Grades to `Simplify' History

Article excerpt

Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart will be glossed over until the fifth grade as Helen Keller and Pocahontas become Virginia's new classroom heroes.

A state Board of Education committee believes turning away from the South's three most beloved political and military heroes will make it easier to teach fourth graders about the Civil War, possibly by removing sentiment and emotion from the still-politically-charged struggle.

Fourth graders should get a "simplified" version of Virginia history, the committee said in issuing revisions to the state's Standards of Learning for History.

The recommendation has drawn fire from those who see it is an effort to water down the state's Confederate tradition.

Board members shouldn't worry that students have to memorize too many names in lower grades, said Steve Hunt, president of the group PASS-SOL, a pro-SOL group of parents and students in Virginia.

"They master the entire English language before they start school," he said.

Simplifying things will "lead to removing elements of history from the curriculum," Mr. Hunt said.

He called it "inappropriate" to "leave out the names of people associated with the American Civil War and American history."

J. Brandon Bell, a Board of Education member who co-chaired the Review and Revision Committee for the History and Social Science tests, said, "We did debate back and forth; we wondered if we should have any names at all."

Mr. Bell added: "When you have 80 people in a committee, you have trouble agreeing what names to use."

Members included Virginia politicians, teachers and local school officials.

The committee's deliberations occurred against the backdrop of protests against flying the Confederate flag in South Carolina's state capitol and a variety of arguments over honoring Confederate traditions in Virginia, particularly among members of the the black-controlled Richmond City Council.

Mr. Bell said Lee would not disappear altogether - he would suddenly appear in the fifth- and sixth-grade history classes.

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 Indian princess Pocahontas and not just Capt. John Smith, Virginia's most famous settler.

Second graders would learn of Helen Keller - an uplifting tale of a woman who was born blind, deaf and mute, but who learned to speak through determination and courage.

Third graders will learn about the highly developed West African empire of Mali, to show the continent was not just a backward supplier of slaves.

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