Virginia Beach and Norfolk students are not learning about Pearl Harbor until middle school. Why is that?

(Southside Daily Photo/courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command)
View looking toward the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard from the Aiea area the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, during or soon after the end of the Japanese air raid.(Southside Daily Photo/courtesy of the Navy, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command)

On Dec. 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II following a surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy.

According to the Naval History and Heritage Command website, Japanese carrier attack planes (in both torpedo and high-level bombing roles) and bombers, supported by fighters, attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in two waves.

Nearby naval and military airfields and bases were also subject to the bombing.

The enemy sank several ships in the U.S. Pacific fleet but no American aircraft carriers were damaged as they were absent from the harbor.

Remembering and learning in our schools

The U.S. takes historically important days like Dec. 7 and uses them to show where we fit in with history.

There are remembrance ceremonies set up to honor those who were killed that day as well as to put importance on what that event meant for the nation in World War II.

In public schools in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, students won’t learn about Pearl Harbor until middle school.

The Virginia Department of Education determined, through approval from the Board of Education, that the study of World War I and World War II would be more age appropriate for the middle school level, said Julie Grimes, communications manager for the VDOE, in an email.

Citing the complexities and dynamics those wars presented, the VDOE restructured the Standards of Learning to reflect a student’s sphere of learning.

But according to the VDOE, it’s up to the individual districts to provide programming, content and activities to support the BOE approved standards and determine the specifics of each course.

“The inclusion of Pearl Harbor into a locally-designed curriculum is a local division decision,” Grimes wrote in an email.

When Southside Daily reached out to the Virginia Beach and Norfolk school districts to inquire whether or not fifth grade students would be able to tell us what the date meant to them, we were told the school district waited until middle school to teach about Pearl Harbor.

Impacts

Two local historians from the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk weighed in on the impacts of skipping over an important date in American history could have on elementary students.

Chris Kolakowski, director of the MacArthur Memorial, noted that Pearl Harbor blooms among the largest of dates in American history.

“The earlier you can instill that the better,” he said.

Kolakowski said while he was not fully familiar with the VDOE’s standards of learning, he does recognize the importance of just mentioning certain dates in American history at a younger age to plant that seed of knowledge.

“History tells us who we are and helps us understand our place,” Kolakowski said.

Corey Thornton, curator at MacArthur Memorial, also shared a slight concern with Pearl Harbor being completely skipped over until middle school.

While he does recognize the immense effort that goes into teaching and that the decision is made by the districts, he is all for mentioning pivotal dates in American history as soon as possible.

Thornton is the son of an elementary school teacher and said he feels that younger students learning about the significance of Dec. 7 would only help the students when they fully learn about Pearl Harbor in middle school.

“I am concerned but it could be worse,” he said.

The impact isn’t high, overall, but the historians both agreed there is no harm in mentioning the date, especially given the national importance of it.

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