HISTORY may change in as little as a year or two for
public-school students in the state of New York. A panel of
educators recently recommended a blueprint for revising the state's
curriculum to embrace "multicultural education," an inclusive
approach that emphasizes the historical roles of nonwhite cultures.
If the panel's ideas are adopted, students would be taught that
Christopher Columbus didn't discover America; he sailed to an
already inhabited land.
Thanksgiving, they would learn, isn't simply a traditional
national holiday of gratitude and celebration; some cultural groups
- such as native Americans - believe it should be a day of mourning.
Classes would discuss the matter.
Some of the changes would involve tinkering with language. Slaves
would be referred to as "enslaved persons to "call forth the
essential humanity of those enslaved" and avoid the impression that
slavery was a chosen role such as "gardener, cook, or carpenter."
The term "Far East" would be replaced by "East Asia" and "the
Middle East" would become "Southwest Asia and North Africa."
The 24-member panel's report, "One Nation, Many Peoples: A
Declaration of Cultural Interdependence," was released late last
month. Thomas Sobol, who convened the panel of scholars and
teachers, praised the report as "thoughtful, scholarly,
constructive." But he has not outlined what aspects of the report
might or might not be used in a revised curriculum for kindergarten
through grade 12.
An earlier report, "Curriculum of Inclusion," which was released
in July 1989, used inflammatory language to make similar
recommendations. It charged that the present curriculum was filled
with "hidden assumptions of white supremacy" and that minorities had
"been the victims of an intellectual and educational oppression." In
the ensuing controversy, Commissioner Sobol appointed another,
broader-based panel to provide a second opinion on the issue.
"This is a better report," says Nathan Glazer, professor of
sociology at Harvard University and one of the panelists. "It does
not take as extreme or critical a view of 'Eurocentric' education or
as extreme a position in advocating 'Afrocentric' or group-oriented
But the new report is also stirring up controversy. Gov. Mario
Cuomo has warned that the panel's recommendations have the potential
for racial divisiveness. "You'll start dividing people; you'll start
developing antagonisms if you're not careful," he said.
Three professors who served on the panel included dissenting
opinions with the report. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a Pulitzer Prize
winner and a humanities professor at the City University of New
York, wrote: "It is surely not the office of the public school to
promote ethnic separatism and heighten ethnic tensions. …