On Friday, the Commonwealth of Virginia Division of Legislative Services published a news release explaining that House Bill 781 contained "a historical error inserted during the drafting process by the Division of Legislative Services. The erroneous citation of Frederick Douglass, in relation to the Lincoln-Douglas debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, was at the drafting level, following receipt of a historically accurate request from the office of Delegate Wren Williams."
Oh, would you look at that. pic.twitter.com/jIEVLaI3qk— Rebecca Downs (@RebeccaRoseGold) January 14, 2022
On Thursday, "Frederick Douglass" trended on Twitter over a mistake in House Bill 781, a bill "relating to public elementary and secondary schools; student citizenship skills; certain instructional policies prohibited; parental rights; disclosures; penalties; other remedies." One such provision includes teaching students about the "founding documents of the United States," referencing "the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The debate, in reality, took place with Sen. Stephen Douglas, the incumbent senator from Illinois whom Lincoln was running against in 1858.
If Virginia is going to pass a law requiring that each student demonstrate an understanding of the Lincoln-Douglas debates we should start by getting the right Douglas.https://t.co/YPYIRCGMyf pic.twitter.com/eHVfa4Pcjp— Sally Hudson (@SallyLHudson) January 14, 2022
Virginia’s proposed social studies reform legislation is terrible for myriad reasons, but the assertion that the Lincoln-Douglas debates were between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass is a new level of historical inaccuracy. https://t.co/mVyBUetG5a— Anna Yonas (@annayonas) January 13, 2022
One of the great moments of U.S. history: When Frederick Douglass debated Abraham Lincoln.— Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato) January 14, 2022
An ignorant alternative fact. Just a hint of what we can expect with Virginia under new management. https://t.co/SRT7kuH92u
Is this real? Are we actually living in a TL where the legislature of Virginia is proposing to reform education by teaching its students that the Lincoln-Douglas debates featured Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass? pic.twitter.com/UNKUt8NJ4X— Melissa Murray (@ProfMMurray) January 14, 2022
There's an explanation, though, as provided by the author of the bill, Del. Wren Williams (R).
"Wren Williams submitted an anti-discrimination bill to Legislative Services around November 29th, fulfilling his top campaign promise during the election. As a part of establishing a foundation for the curriculum of Virginia schools, Williams referenced the Lincoln-Douglas debates in the original text he submitted," Addison Merryman, a Legislative Aide with Wren's office, explained to Townhall.
The text read:
(3) The founding documents of the United States including the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers (including but not limited to Essays 10 and 51), excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, and the writings of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
The current version published online contains that historical error.
As Merryman also explained, "The role of Legislative Services is to take legislation that representatives want to file, polish it in the appropriate format of the General Assembly and mold it so that it plays well with the standing Code of Virginia. However, in this case, Legislative Services made what Williams presumes to be an honest mistake and substantially altered the legislation that he submitted, corrupting what was originally an accurate historical reference that he had made."
Williams himself also spoke exclusively with Townhall to explain his frustration. "Of course I'm frustrated this happened. I have a very high standard for my office, and my service to my constituents and the Commonwealth," he said. "But I realize that mistakes happen. I trust this was an honest mistake, and I don't hold it against Legislative Services."
Further, Williams is hopeful about the attention the bill is receiving now. "The good news here is that this bill is getting the attention it deserves. This is groundbreaking legislation for Virginia's education system that is aimed at finally accomplishing what Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned: A generation of Americans who see each other not based on the color of their skin, but the content of their character," he told Townhall.
With Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin (R) being inaugurated tomorrow, and the House of Delegates now under Republican control, there is hope that the bill will gain some traction. "I'm glad that with a Republican House and Governor, our biggest obstacles now are typographical errors that are easily corrected, rather than a school system that marginalizes parents and children as a matter of policy," he continued.
Williams just started his time in the House of Delegates earlier this month and represents the 9th District. He defeated Democrat Bridgette Craighead in November, after defeating incumbent Charles Poindexter in a Republican primary last June by 62.8 percent to Poindexter's 37.2 percent.
Governor-Elect Youngkin will be inaugurated tomorrow, as will Lieutenant Governor-Elect Winsome Sears and Attorney General-Elect Jason Miyares, all Republicans.
The Republican ticket made it a priority during the campaign to prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Williams' bill effectively prohibits the teaching of CRT, speaking specifically about a "divisive concept," which is defined as:
the concept that (i) one race, religion, ethnicity, or sex is inherently superior to another race, religion, ethnicity, or sex; (ii) an individual, by virtue of the individual's race, religion, ethnicity, or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (iii) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual's race, religion, ethnicity, or sex; (iv) members of one race, religion, ethnicity, or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, religion, ethnicity, or sex; (v) an individual's moral character is necessarily determined by the individual's race, religion, ethnicity, or sex; (vi) an individual, by virtue of the individual's race, religion, ethnicity, or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, religion, ethnicity, or sex; (vii) an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual's race, religion, ethnicity, or sex; (viii) meritocracy, punctuality, proper language usage, free markets, and traits such as strong work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race; (ix) the ideology of equity of outcomes is superior to the ideology of equality, a concept enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, of opportunities; (x) mathematics and scientific empiricism are products of western civilization and thus are rooted in racism; (xi) the Commonwealth or the United States is fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist; or (xii) capitalism, free markets, free industry, and other related economic systems are inherently racist.
Exit polls showed that CRT was a major issue for Virginia voters. According to a Fox News exit poll, CRT was the single most important issue for 25 percent of voters. Among those who said it was their top issue, 70 percent voted for Youngkin. The poll also indicated that 72 percent of voters considered CRT an "important" factor for their vote.
CRT is not the only education issue facing Virginia, though. Loudoun County Public School System is facing harsh criticism for covering up multiple rapes that one individual committed at different schools throughout the district. That young man, who is now 15, was sentenced on Wednesday to residential treatment and has been placed on the sex offender registry for life. Troubles still abound for the district, though, due to a cover up from the school board and the district refusing to share the details of their "independent" investigation about the rapes.
Miyares has made it a priority to investigate the school board. His staff confirmed to Townhall on Wednesday that investigating the school board "is a day one, immediate priority."