No Founding Fathers? That's Our New History

By Sorokin, Ellen | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 28, 2002 | Go to article overview

No Founding Fathers? That's Our New History


Sorokin, Ellen, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Ellen Sorokin

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are not included in the revised version of the New Jersey Department of Education history standards - a move some critics view as political correctness at its worst.

The Pilgrims and the Mayflower also are excluded, as well as the word "war," which has been replaced with "conflict" in lessons about the early settlers, colonization and expansion.

Also gone are most references to the inhumane treatment many American soldiers endured in wars overseas during the 20th century. However, the standards specifically note that students should identify slavery, the Holocaust and modern Iraq as examples "in which people have behaved in cruel and inhumane ways."

The latest revisions to the state standards have disappointed educators across the country, who said the board's exclusion of the Founding Fathers' names is "political correctness at the end of the nth degree."

"This is what you call a historical irresponsibility," said David Saxe, a Penn State University education professor who reviews state history standards nationwide for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington. The foundation gave the New Jersey history standards a failing grade the last time it reviewed them.

New Jersey's current history standards, which also exclude most historical figures, were approved in 1996. Those standards were revised earlier this month and have not yet been approved by the state.

State school officials argue they do not need to list all the well-known historical figures - like other states' history or social studies standards do - because teachers will know they have to talk about the country's first president and the other Founding Fathers when the lesson on American history comes up.

"It's pretty obvious what needs to be taught," said Jay Doolan, the acting assistant commissioner of the state's Division of Academic and Career Standards.

State educators said the standards do include a requirement that students "recognize the names of some major figures in American history" - a generalization that Mr. Saxe said is a "cop out."

"It's unimaginable to us why teachers wouldn't teach students about George Washington when they talk about the new nation," Mr. Doolan said. "It's also hard to imagine that when our students learn about Thanksgiving, that they won't learn about the Pilgrims, who they were and why they came here. . . . We don't intentionally exclude certain names. But how long should the list of names be? Who do we include or not include?"

Some states like Virginia and Indiana also don't include the Pilgrims in their standards. In some cases, the Pilgrims are referred to as early settlers, early Europeans, European colonizers or newcomers, although most textbooks still call them Pilgrims.

"[The word] Pilgrim implies religion," said Brian Jones, vice president for Communications and Policy at the Education Leaders Council in Washington. "It's getting more difficult to talk about the Bible and the Puritans."

But if the state leaves out specific names and events in its standards, then teachers must defer to history textbooks that are written by national and state committees, Mr. …

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