Proposed standards for teaching American history, say critics, substitute political correctness for sensible analysis, and students could lose. At least one opponent thinks the proposals are a travesty.
A megadose of "revisionist" history appears headed for America classrooms.
A group that has spent two years and $2.2 million of taxpayers' money drafting national standards for teaching history thinks it is more important to teach schoolchildren about the Seneca Falls "Declaration of Sentiments" than about Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
Students of American history in grades five through 12 need not know who Paul Revere or Robert E. Lee are, but they should become familiar with Mansa Musa, a 14th-century West African king.
The standards, released on Oct. 25, were developed by the National Center for History in the Schools at the University of California at Los Angeles, funded with grants from the Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Lynne V. Cheney, the NEH's director when the standards were being funded, calls them "a travesty" and thinks their effects will be counterproductive.
"I think they're not only likely to bring an end to the standards movement but will cause a final erosion in people's faith in public education," says Cheney, now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. "I've received dozens of phone calls from people ... worried that the standards represent not only a politically correct version of history, but a version of history that's not true."
But the developers of the document are quick to defend their work. Charlotte Crabtree, professor emeritus of education at UCLA and codirector of the project, describes the standards as a "first step in what has to be a continuing process, but it is an important milestone and it has enormous support of thousands of people and represents the broad consensus in the nation at this time."
The standards call for the inclusion of a considerable amount of social history that has transformed the study of American history in recent years. Added to the familiar political, military, economic and constitutional history are African-American, Asian-American, American Indian and Latino history as well as the history of popular culture, labor and women.
These new disciplines require new approaches, say educators. To meet the standard that calls for understanding "changing gender roles and the role of different groups of Abe: Does he women" in the early 19th century, for example, teachers should try the suggested learning activities, such as:
"Drawing from historical evidence, evaluate the Seneca Falls `Declaration of Sentiments' as a response to the inequities of the period. …