AMAC Exclusive – By Eleanor Vaughn
The class of 2026—the class that will graduate in the 250th year since the signing of the Declaration of Independence—will start high school this fall. It would be a historic moment no matter what else was happening, but now, when education is so hotly debated, it seems like a pivotal moment for the future of our country. What will the Class of 2026 learn about their history and cultural inheritance as Americans?
Fairfax County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., is a good place to find out. It is a large, prosperous school district, with highly rated schools serving more than 180,000 students. 92% of those students plan to pursue higher education when they graduate, and its high schools have been recognized as some of the most academically challenging in the country. The district’s budget for 2022 is $3.4 billion. Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) are nationally regarded. And in recent years, its civics and history policies have drawn national attention.
All Virginia schools, not just FCPS, follow the Standards of Learning (SOLs) set by the state. These are outlines of the topics that should be covered in a given subject. While teachers make their own curricula, they must do so within the guidelines set by SOLs, and students are tested to ensure they have learned the required information. The SOLs are freely available online and do not contain much that is objectionable in and of themselves. They are carefully inclusive, encouraging the discussion of minorities as part of the American story while also containing the traditional canon of important historical events. While they may appear somewhat left-leaning, the SOLs are hardly radical. Ideologically driven teaching is not required, nor is it forbidden—and since the standards are so broad, the implementation ultimately comes down to the teacher.
Students in FCPS will clearly learn the basic facts of American history—the Articles of Confederation, the Missouri Compromise, the World Wars, and the Civil Rights movement—but how they will interpret those facts depends on how their teacher presents them.
So, we can turn our attention to the administration and teacher development of Fairfax County, where things begin to look a little ominous.
Parents Defending Education, a nationwide organization opposed to politicized education and concepts like Critical Race Theory (CRT) in classrooms, has found that FCPS has introduced so-called “anti-racism” training for its teachers – a key buzzword for CRT activists. This kind of training presents anti-racism and CRT as frameworks for teachers to use when educating children. Therefore, while CRT may not appear on any class name or syllabus, it can nonetheless guide and shape lessons and discussions.
We have already seen the kinds of shocking lesson plans this can lead to: less than two months ago, a Fairfax County high school had its students play “privilege bingo” in class, marking off their own personal privileges on a bingo card. Students were explicitly reduced to their racial and gender characteristics and encouraged to view one another as members of “oppressed” or “oppressor” groups rather than as individuals.
The lesson plan was only revised after public outcry that military children were labeled as “privileged” despite the sacrifices that they and their parents make. While some commentators have argued that this is not happening in every classroom across Fairfax County, parents’ rights groups have responded that even one is too many. And if teachers push these radical theories, or feel pressured by school administrators to endorse them, history and civics classes can turn into platforms for radical activism, presenting controversial theories as unquestionable facts.
Similar cases have occurred elsewhere in Virginia and throughout the country. As a result, the issue of education has animated parents from across the political spectrum to band together and demand accountability and transparency in their children’s schools.
These efforts are long overdue and much needed. Parents have every right to object to inappropriate content and demand that their kids are taught the truth about the United States and its history. But that effort shouldn’t stop at the school doors.
Parents also have an obligation to act as teachers for their children. No school, however acclaimed, is a substitute for good parenting. While schools can be excellent vehicles for teaching hard skills like reading, writing, math, and science, parents still play an invaluable role in imparting to their children a set of values and moral compass that will empower them to live happy and successful lives.
The past two years have clearly shown us that schools don’t always have their students’ best interests at heart, and relying on them entirely can mean surrendering children to whatever misguided ideology happens to be fashionable in the moment. So, if parents want their children to learn the truth, they must teach them the truth. It doesn’t require an elaborate homeschool lesson plan—simple talks around the kitchen table are enough. But with so few places left to talk and learn freely, without fear of censorship or condemnation, parents and families are more important than ever.
So, in the car on the way to soccer practice or piano lessons, teach your children the things only you know—who your family is, where they come from, how they got here, what they believe, and why. Because while what the Class of 2026 will learn from their teachers is important, what they learn from their parents will be even more so, and will shape the next 250 years of this country’s history.
Eleanor Vaughn is a writer living in Virginia.