Magazine article Insight on the News

Take Their Education Standards - Please!

Magazine article Insight on the News

Take Their Education Standards - Please!

Article excerpt

When things gets dull around the campfire and some meaningful discourse seems timely, bring up the bristling subject of national educational standards --and stand by.

There is little doubt that our education system is failing to do its job. After a decade of emphasis on self-esteem, youngsters are being loosed after 12 (or even 16) years of schooling ill-prepared for much beyond feeling good about themselves.

But one of the more acrimonious debates has centered on national standards. This is precarious ground. In our vastly decentralized public-education system, all but the most rabid advocates of standards have spoken soothingly of the importance of local control: Any federal standards would be "advisory." People who assert otherwise are "marvelously mistook," as Shakespeare's Gower pungently put it.

What's wrong with national educational standards? Why shouldn't there be a carefully specified menu of what we expect public schools to pack into young noggins?

Well, to get to the nubbin, whose standards? That's the intellectual choke point. Take the National History Standards, which had their genesis in the National Endowment for the Humanities under the Bush administration (with conservatives proposing and liberals disposing).

When the anointed professors paraded their product in 1994, the reaction was, not to put too fine a point on it, mixed. Historians, of course, cheered. In contrast, the U.S. Senate, presumably representing a vein of public sentiment, strongly condemned the standards--not least because there were, for instance, 17 references to the Ku Klux Klan, 19 to McCarthyism, but none to Paul Revere or Thomas Edison.

Grinding its teeth, the committee went back to the drawing board. A second version was unfurled last year and, though only marginally modified, grudgingly seemed to pass public muster. Nevertheless, that version still reflects the leftist--that is, "nontraditional"--premises Gary Nash, standards-committee guru and professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

In an essay in the American Scholar; John Patrick Diggins of the City University of New York quotes Nash complaining in one of his books about America's "white-oriented hero-worshipping history." Nash, as maestro of the standards, argued that history should emphasize how non-European cultures were "actively and intimately involved" in this nation's development. …

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