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Education Reporter

History Texts Draw More Salvos
Federal Role Reasserted Despite Criticism
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Ignoring conservative objections to federal involvement in history education, Congress late last year passed a law to dispense grants to set up student and teacher history academies.

The American History and Civics Education Act, introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and signed by President Bush on January 21, will support summer academies for several hundred teachers and students over four years. No specific content is mandated, but some conservative organizations such as EdWatch and Gun Owners of America have expressed concern that the academies will promote a globalist curriculum written by the Center for Civics Education. The center produced the controversial text We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution, which a previous federal law specifically designated as the standard for civics education in public schools.

Because of the conservative objections, the final compromise bill has no funding and requires the U.S. Department of Education to pay for the program using existing funds.

Critics question why the federal government should have any involvement in history education in view of the checkered experience of federal intervention over the last ten years. An uproar erupted over the National Standards for United States History financed by a $2 million grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to UCLA in the mid-1990s. The standards, intended to direct how American history should be taught in grades 5 through 12, proved to be so faulty and anti-American that the Senate denounced them by a vote of 99 to 1 and NEH chairman Lynne Cheney branded them as "politicized history."

300,000 federal booklets trashed 
Subsequently revised to address some criticisms, the standards live on in both versions. A booklet recently published by the Department of Education called "Helping Your Child Learn History" gratuitously included several favorable references to the notorious standards, even obliquely suggesting that President Bush supports them.

After Lynne Cheney — whose husband is now Vice President — learned of the Education Department booklet, her staff communicated her displeasure to the department. The department then destroyed its inventory of 300,000 copies.

Politically correct, left-wing or inaccurate history textbooks continue to incur commentators' scorn. "The pages are carefully measured to spend equal time on the accomplishments of men and women, whites and nonwhites. They take care not to offend America's past enemies, but don't seem to worry about offending Americans," high school student Dan Gelernter complained in The Weekly Standard. (10-25-04).

The American Pageant (12th ed.), the textbook used in Gelernter's high school, never mentions President Reagan's achievement of ending the Cold War, giving credit to Mikhail Gorbachev instead. It describes the Reagan economic boom thus: "The poor got poorer and the very rich grew fabulously richer, while middle-class incomes largely stagnated" - even though the average income of all quintiles increased.

Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States is a "screed that depicts America as a continuing centuries-old conspiracy of rich white men to exploit minorities," according to Robert Holland of the Washington Times (12-15-04). As another illustration of the biases of many history educators, he quoted a paper presented by Central Missouri State University faculty members in late 2004: "The silent but deadly oppressor of the ethnic minority child's spirit is a state of injustice that is imbedded in . . . a one-sided truth espoused through the Eurocentric lens of American education."

'Street law' replaces civics 
Street Law: A Practical Guide to the Law is widely used in lieu of traditional civics texts for high school. The book "replaces conventional civics with a bleak world of torts, liability, rights, entitlements, discrimination, and self-expressive lifestyles," charges Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council. (nationalreview.com, 11-10-04) "Its civics no longer expects students to act as citizens of a republic. Instead, young people are taking instruction as members of factions, clients of the state, and subjects of the lawyer class."

Textbooks used in English as a Second Language programs, such as High Point and Talking Walls, seem to "destroy any patriotic thoughts these new Americans might develop toward their adopted country," writes Edgar B. Anderson in FrontPageMagazine.com (7-1-04).

Inaccuracies abound 
Factual errors are a perennial problem with textbooks. Oh, California! by Houghton Mifflin contained so many inaccuracies that the Simi Valley Unified School District (which was required by law to use the book) voted unanimously in June 2001 to request state legislation requiring a warranty of accuracy.

Among other errors, the book stated that the southern border of California with Mexico was the Rio Grande; that Columbus started out from Portugal; that Malibu and Santa Monica are in the San Fernando Valley; that Gov. Hiram Johnson was mayor of San Francisco; that the transcontinental railroad went south of Lake Tahoe instead of north of it; and that borax was still being mined in Death Valley (the mining stopped in the 1920s).

More recently, the watchdog group Textbook Trust exposed historical inaccuracies in the textbook Earth Science despite its list of more than 40 paid academic reviewers from prestigious universities. Highlights from the group's detailing of errors include missing the date of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone by a century, stating that gold dissolves in hot water, and asserting that a 200,000-pound dinosaur lived in ancient New Mexico.

Bleeding hearts for Aztecs 
The prevailing multiculturalist attitudes in textbooks were on display in the recent exhibit on the Aztec Empire at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, wherein the chief curator's essay bitterly lamented the destruction of the Aztec Empire by Spaniards. The exhibit made no mention of Aztec cannibalism and only gently alluded to its practice of human sacrifice, which occurred on a large and gruesome scale. (The New Criterion, Dec. 2004)

Help may be on the way. A new history book, A Patriot's History of the United States: From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror by Larry Schweikart and Michael Patrick Allen, promises to "put the spotlight back on America's role as a beacon of liberty to the rest of the world."

The authors, history professors at the University of Dayton and the University of Washington, decided to make an "end run" around textbook companies and faculty committees by using a trade publisher, Penguin/Sentinel. Their target market is college and high school teachers and homeschoolers. Schweikart was galvanized to write the book by the "seriously distorted" coverage of the Reagan administration economic policies in The American Pageant, a textbook referenced earlier in this article. (FrontPageMagazine.com, 1-31-05)

See also Education Reporter, July 2004 for earlier criticisms of U.S. history textbooks.

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