A Lot of Standards, but Little Truth

By Beichman, Arnold | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 23, 1997 | Go to article overview
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A Lot of Standards, but Little Truth


Beichman, Arnold, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Walter A. McDougall, the Pulitzer prize-winning historian, has just published a devastating attack on a new American history textbook titled "United States History: In the Course of Human Events." Mr. McDougall calls the book, intended for high schools, "a fraud." The 1,200-page volume disparages George Washington, defends pornography on the Internet, explains American history by ignoring Lockean individualism and concludes with bad grammar:

"The application of the ideas of liberty, equality and justice on which this democracy is founded are [sic] constantly evolving in response to changing times."

Why pick on one textbook? Because this is the one based on the National Standards funded by -you guessed it, the National Endowment for the Humanities. The National Standards have been found wanting in all particulars in an earlier analysis by Mr. McDougall, "What Johnny Still Won't Know About History," published in Commentary Magazine (July 1996).

Here are some of Mr. McDougall's findings:

* The National Standards suggested that the United States is founded on "three cultures" -Amerindian, African and European. In the new textbook, says Mr. McDougall, the pre-Columbian and African civilizations "are described in sympathetic detail, that of Renaissance Europeans is dismissed in a few pages devoted only to their skill in ship-building and lust for spices and gold." Worse is yet to follow.

* Fifteenth century Africans displayed "diverse cultures," "great luxury," says the textbook, and boasted a university in Timbuktu that "attracted students from all over North Africa." No mention is made that by 1492 Europeans had established sixty universities. The Renaissance gets seven lines of text, the Reformation none, and the Enlightenment six short sentences. "Judging by the information provided here," Mr. McDougall observes dryly, "the European settlers might as well have come from Mars.

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