Whose History Is This?

Imagine a history text in which the Wright brothers have been grounded, Alexander Graham Bell has been disconnected, Thomas Edison is in the dark, and Paul Revere's fabled Midnight Ride has been cancelled. If this doesn't sound like the American history you know, you're right. But it's precisely the American history a national panel wants to impose on our schoolchildren. Lots of major facts and figures of our real American history are conspicuously absent in the new "National Standards for United States History." Even the Declaration of Independence isn't mentioned directly, and students would never learn that George Washington was our first President. But these Standards aren't the innocent brainchild of some woolly-headed professor. They're the product of a taxpayer-supported project through the National Endowment for the Humanities. They were prepared by the National Council for the Study of History at UCLA. And, if approved by the "Goals 2000" bureaucracy created by President Clinton, they will profoundly influence how history is taught in schools across America. What's included in the Standards is as amazing as what's left out. For example, though Tom Edison isn't mentioned, students would learn about what the Standards call "the achievements and grandeur of [West African King] Mansa Musa," and "the social customs . . . of Mali. " Even more disturbing, the Standards focus on America's shortcomings instead of its achievements. For example, the Standards claim the Constitution "sidetracked [a] movement to abolish slavery" in the late 1700s. But there's no mention of the context—no hint that our ancestors faced challenges we don't. No suggestion that history is often a struggle for existence, let alone justice. Even a former NEH chairman, Lynne Cheney, has denounced the Standards as a politically correct document prepared for the Clinton administration. She says some of the project's historians even admit their "great hatred for traditional [American] history." But we don't want our kids to hate their own history! Of course American history is imperfect. That's the way history is. But to help our children understand the past—their past—we have to make sure they understand how to understand history. "Walk a mile in their shoes" is one way of saying this. And when our children are taught the truth about our history, they'll naturally regret some of America's failures—but they'll also admire what America has achieved. They'll have a balanced view of our country's triumphs and its tragedies. And then—but only then—they can try to do better than we have done at making our high ideals more real. There's another point that needs to be made about these Standards. It's that the federal government has no business imposing a politically correct curriculum—or any curriculum for that matter—on our local schools. But if standards like these are adopted, the true greatness of the American tradition will be erased from our children's textbooks . . . never to be inscribed on their minds. Goals 2000 and other federal schemes to impose a national curriculum on our kids should be shelved for good.


Chuck Colson


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