Teaching Guide Shortchanges Western History, Critics Say

Article excerpt

PROPOSED NATIONAL STANDARDS for teaching children world history have drawn fire for what some critics call flattering views of the world's varied cultures at the expense of Western civilization.

The wide-ranging standards provide lessons on Greek and Roman civilization, while urging teachers to have students map the territories liberated by Simon Bolivar, or trace the spread of Islam in Southwest Asia, North Africa and Europe.

Critics contend the standards for grades five through 12 cast historical figures such as Genghis Khan in a positive light, while downplaying the role of Western societies that prized individual freedom and democracy.

But members of a coalition of teachers and educators that produced the federally funded report maintain they are giving students perspective on the roots of different cultures needed to live in today's world.

"These standards recommend that world history be genuinely a world history: history that encompasses the humanity of the entire world," said Ross Dunn, who edited the standards for the University of California at Los Angeles Center for History in the Schools. "The standards say it is important to understand the development of Western civilization, but they should study (other) developments and they will understand those better in the context of world history," said Dunn, a history professor at San Diego State University.

Project co-director Gary Nash said that in today's global economy, understanding the roots of Japanese, Latin American or other cultures will give students a firm footing for the commerce of the next century. "These kids are going to live in a truly international economy that includes international politics, international environmental issues and international cultural exchanges. This is a shrinking globe," said Nash, a UCLA professor.

The release of the standards comes on the heels of the October release of the center's American history standards for grades five through 12.

Those standards also drew fire for being political correct revisionism that overshadowed the role of white males such as George Washington. Also set to be released are American history standards for kindergarten through grade four.

The new world history standards divide history into eight periods and seek to focus on developments that affected large numbers of people and had broad significance for later generations.

Aside from simply being too voluminous to be easily incorporated into a curriculum, critics say the world history standards provide a more critical view of Western civilization than other cultures.

Ruth Wattenberg, deputy director of the educational issues department for the American Federation of Teachers, said, "It's good for history students to look close and scrutinize what they're reading, but you need to do that across the board and not just for the West. …