Teaching the Love of History 'Political Correctness' Is Not the Motive for US History Standards

Article excerpt

IT has been just a year now since the publication of the National Standards for History. There are two contrasting stories to tell about these controversial guidelines. The first story began last October when Lynne Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, blasted the standards in the Wall Street Journal. Academic liberals and multiculturalists, she argued, had "hijacked" the project in order to produce guidelines that were revisionist and "politically correct." Ms. Cheney sifted through the US history standards to find a phrase here, an omitted name there that might be construed as undermining traditional American values and achievements. She charged, for example, "that not a single one of the 31 standards mentions the Constitution." All she was actually saying is that the word "constitution" does not appear in a particular topic heading. In fact the standards include a major section on the Continental Congress, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, a feature the American Legal and Constitutional Society has lauded. Mrs. Cheney complained that George Washington "makes only a fleeting appearance." In reality the guidelines encourage children at all grade levels to study his life through stories, biographies, documents, national symbols, and library research. The gap is indeed immense between the Cheney version of the standards and the actual documents. Yet pundits and talk show hosts quickly picked up her allegations and for many months repeated them. This summer, Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich joined in. On Labor Day Sen. Bob Dole (R) of Kansas attacked the standards in a speech to the American Legion, denouncing them as threatening Americans "as surely as any foreign power ever has." None of these political figures made a thoughtful critique of the guidelines. They merely repeated the phrases Mrs. Cheney had uttered months before. In other words, the political controversy over the standards has degenerated into a ritualized recitation of charges suitable for preelection speeches to sympathetic audiences. There is, however, a second story to tell about the events of the past year. This is the story of the thousands of history teachers, school officials, and parents who have been studying the standards, discussing them responsibly, and quietly putting them to work in social studies classrooms. Across the nation, teachers, on the lookout for good resource material, are squeezing the standards for all they are worth, trying out the hundreds of rich teaching activities they offer, drawing on them for new curricular designs, and largely ignoring the political invective. …