History? Revisions in Teaching Spark Debate

Article excerpt

History? Revisions in Teaching Spark Debate.

Guidelines Focus on Minorities' Role, Analytical Thinking

by Garland L. Thompson

Warfare is often the subject of history debates, but there are times in which the debate over history becomes warlike. One example is the contention over the proposed "National Standards for United States History" published by the UCLA Center for History in the Schools.

Released with the avowed purpose to "inspire nothing less than a new American revolution," the center's guidelines were developed under grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education and overseen by the National Council for History Standards. They promise "to provide students with a more comprehensive, challenging and thought-provoking education in United States history."

No sooner than the guidebook was published, criticism surfaced. Lynne Cheyney, former Reagan administration National Endowment chief, said the new standards "present a warped view of American history." Complaining that the guidebook's examples of ways to teach history contain 17 references to the Ku Klux Klan and 19 references to McCarthyism, but no references to Paul Revere or Thomas Edison, Cheyney said the guidelines "make it sound as if everything in America is wrong and grim."

Gary B. Nash, head of the Center for History in the Schools and co-director with Charlotte Crabtree of the standards project, wondered whether Cheyney was "confusing a curriculum guidebook with a history textbook. What we're trying to say with this book is, it's important for students to learn about how new technology and communications transformed America, not create lists of which inventors ought to be studied.

"An important lesson to be learned from American history is that understanding our nation demands constant exploration, revision and reappraisal," he said. "These standards combine American history as we have known it in the classroom for generations with a host of new questions, personalities, investigations and issues. Our goal was nothing short of a new American revolution in history education, and we think students will benefit tremendously from this new approach."

Cause and Effect

The guidebook notes that, "Thomas Jefferson long ago prescribed history for all who would take part in self-government because it would enable them to prepare for things yet to come," and quotes the philosopher Etienne Gilson: "History is the only laboratory we have in which to test the consequences of thought."

In one major revision, the standards suggest that, "The study of American history properly begins with the first peopling of the Americas some 30,000 years ago. After students learn about the spread of human societies and the rise of diverse cultures in the Americas, they are prepared to delve into a historical convergence of European, African and Native American peoples, beginning in the late 15th century...."

Under "Examples of student achievement" for grades 5-6, the guidebook says, "Using literature, investigate stories of the early exploration of the Americas before Columbus. …