Class works to ensure Virginia SOLs include disability history

Teaching school children about individuals with disabilities and their contributions to the history of the United States is an important issue for Darren Minarik.

So important, the Radford University education faculty member took action to ensure the topic was covered in the revised edition of Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) for History and Social Science.

Minarik and students in his introduction to special education class (EDSP 404/504) examined revisions to the science and history SOL tests last fall, soon after the Virginia Department of Education made the standards available for review.

"We found there were no additions addressing issues associated with disability history," Minarik said.

As a member of the Virginia State Special Education Advisory Committee (SSEAC), Minarik wrote a letter, based partly on his class’ review of the SOLs, to the Virginia Board of Education on behalf of the committee. The letter addressed concerns over the omission of disability history in the revised SOLs for history and social science.

"We are not asking for the addition of new standards. We recognize that teachers already have a tremendous amount of content to address," the SSEAC letter stated. "Rather, we are asking that revised standards are approved with some references to disability history at relevant points in in elementary, middle, and high school to encourage the use of resources already in place for Virginia teachers."

The efforts of Minarik’s students and the SSEAC worked. An example, Minarik said, is the inclusion of references in the SOLs regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at three different grade levels.

Next comes work on the Virginia history and social science curriculum framework, which will provide more detail, Minarik said, regarding content addressing specific subject areas.

"For example, a standard may be written to ask, 'How did the Civil Rights Movement impact other movements within society?'" Minarik explained. "Then, within the curriculum framework, we'd want the answer to include the Disability Rights Movement."

Minarik said he will have his class, which is made up of future social studies teachers, examine the curriculum framework if it is released for review. 

Minarik is passionate about teaching disability history, from Helen Keller to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the many others whose contributions have impacted numerous lives.

“People with disabilities represent the largest and most diverse minority group,” he said. “It’s a group that might include anyone of us at some point in our lives and yet we know very little about disability history.”

When teaching on the topic, Minarik, a former high school teacher, often shares with his students a quote from author and historian William Loren Katz, which states: “If you believe people have no history worth mentioning, it’s easy to believe they have no humanity worth defending.”

Minarik is quick to point out that Virginia observes Disability History and Awareness month each year in October.

“People with disabilities have a story to tell,” Minarik said. “And, it is time that educators are given the opportunity to explore disability history with their students.”

Aug 21, 2015