From The Coalition Column of the December 2004 Perspectives

News Briefs, December 2004

Bruce Craig, December 2004

Education Department Destroys Copies of History Booklet

The Department of Education (ED) has destroyed some 300,000 copies of a 73-page booklet "Helping Your Child Learn History." The publication was ordered destroyed reportedly after the office of Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife and a former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, complained to department officials about the continued presence of references in the reprint booklet to the National Standards for History.

Lynne Cheney has a long history of battling against the "history standards"—voluntary benchmarks developed a decade ago by professional historians and designed to improve history courses. When she served as NEH chair, Cheney had at first championed the creation of the national standards and had even helped fund the project. But after the release of the final version of the standards, Cheney criticized them and set off an ideological feud by asserting they were not positive enough about America's achievements and paid too little attention to prominent figures and heroes. At one time she even characterized the standards as "politicized history." Defenders of the standards argued that they properly emphasized the complexities of historical causation, and, by focusing on multiple points of view, accurately reflected contemporary historical scholarship and practice.

The publication was aimed at parents of preschoolers through fifth graders and is part of a series of similar booklets that address topics like geography, reading, and math. Originally published in 1993, the publication contained advice for parents and recommended various activities for them to do with children to instill a love of history, such as taking children to museums and historic sites. The booklet had been updated by ED officials in summer 2004, and the updated version had actually been "approved" by Cheney's office. Some 300,000 copies were printed at a cost of $110,000 and 61,000 copies were distributed.

Apparently, one of the reprints made it to the desk of a Cheney staff member who noticed several references to the National Standards for History that had not been present when Cheney's office had signed off on the reprint. According to department officials, the references were added for the sake of "consistency" (similar standards are routinely referenced in the department's other guidebooks for parents). Cheney's staff complained to ED officials, and although neither Cheney nor representatives of her office actually ordered the destruction of the booklets, ED officials pulled all remaining copies of the new version, consigned them all to be "recycled," and prepared another version that is now being printed.

What is remarkable about the reprinting controversy is that it provides yet more evidence of what many historians have long suspected—that Lynn Cheney's office keeps a close eye on the activities of the Department of Education and other history-related agencies throughout the federal government.

The new version of the booklet, without the references to history standards, can be viewed on the department's website (http://www.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/history/index.html).

NARA Efficiency Act Passes—NHPRC Reauthorized

President Bush has signed legislation—the National Archives and Records Administration Efficiency Act of 2003 (H.R. 3478) into law (P.L. 108–383) that makes technical amendments to records retention regulations and streamlines the present process for retention of government records. More importantly, the bill grants the Archivist of the United States the authority to charge fees for public use of NARA facilities and authorizes the agency to enter into cooperative agreements with state and local governments, other public entities, educational institutions, and private nonprofit organizations in order to assist in carrying out NARA programs. The new law also provides a statutory reauthorzation of appropriations for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) through fiscal 2009. A total of $10 million is authorized for each year through fiscal 2009.

High School Curricula Fail to Adequately Prepare College-bound Students

ACT, the organization that administers the college-entrance examination with the same name, has released a report entitled, "Crisis at the Core: Preparing All Students for College and Work." The report states that American high schools' core curricula insufficiently prepare students for college level work and even for job training.

Hitherto ACT has been urging students to take a core curriculum that includes four years of English and three years each of math, natural sciences, and social studies. However, the new report argues that completion of the core curriculum no longer ensures success for high-school students in either college or the work place. Consequently, ACT is now recommending that students take at least one additional course in all four subject areas.

While the emphasis of the report is on English, math, and science, it also addresses social studies. The report found that students who took an additional history course beyond the core scored higher than those students who completed only the core social studies curriculum. The report concluded that students who take more than the three years of core social studies classes, have higher reading scores. Reading skills are critical to college readiness; the report states that these skills should be reinforced in high school courses throughout the curriculum. Many of the important critical reading skills are emphasized in social studies courses. The average ACT Assessment Reading Test Scores document that this trend holds for both genders and all racial/ethnic groups.

For more information on this report please visit http//www.act.org/path/policy/index.html .

" Teaching with Historic Places" Web Site Updated

The National Park Service educational outreach web site, "Teaching with Historic Places" (TwHP), has recently been updated. The site now includes links that show teachers which social studies standards from the "Curriculum Standards for Social Studies" set out by the National Council for the Social Studies may be applied to each lesson. TwHP lessons are matched to the performance expectations for middle grades as stipulated in the standards, but the lessons often also meet the corresponding or additional performance expectations for early grades and/or high school as well. These voluntary standards promote a multidisciplinary understanding of civic issues and involvement in civic affairs. The TwHP site also has a new dedicated social studies page, so teachers can easily see which lessons fit within a particular “theme strand" from the standards. To visit the TwHP web site please go to www.cr.nps.gov/nr/twhp/.