Phony "standards" and fake "history"

Editor's Introduction -- The bogus document titled National Standards for United States History, produced by a far-left organization in Los Angeles, is really a detailed plan for a curriculum dealing in ideological nonsense. One of its more malignant traits is the retailing of a "history" that virtually excludes science, technology and medicine as historical forces, and virtually ignores the achievements of American scientists and technologists. This exclusion seems to be deliberate.
from The Textbook Letter, November-December 1994

Victimist Delusions Are In.
Science and Technology Are Out.

William J. Bennetta

Like other commercial publishers, schoolbook companies exist for the purpose of making money. And like other commercial publishers, they produce what they think they can sell. This approach can lead to the creation and marketing of some fine books, but it can also lead to gross corruption and fraud. These latter effects arise when companies care only about profit and care nothing for knowledge, for ordinary honesty, or for anything that might be called education. The production of schoolbooks then becomes an exercise in pandering and pimping, and the books themselves become collections of popular delusions, faddish claptrap, and the propaganda dispensed by pressure groups.

That is why we must give some attention to a new document called National Standards for United States History, which purports to be an array of federal standards for teaching American history in grades 5 through 12.

The "history" that this document puts forth is so obviously laden with duplicity, ideological flatus and vulgar phantasms that we might be tempted to dismiss the whole thing with a laugh. That would be a mistake, however. The people who directed the concocting of National Standards for United States History are promoting it as a milestone in "education reform" and are trying to make educators believe that it is legitimate and intellectually respectable. If they succeed in these efforts to make their product fashionable, then unprincipled publishers will surely rush to produce textbooks that mimic National Standards for United States History in scope, content and detail. We therefore should be aware of what this document is and what it tries to do.

Several critics have already published essays that expose and challenge National Standards for United States History as a whole. In the present article I would like to consider some particular matters that most other commentators have overlooked: The writers of National Standards for United States History have erased science and medicine from our country's story, have relentlessly hidden our achievements and global leadership in technology, and have virtually ignored the ways in which technology has shaped American history and American life. By so doing, the writers have precluded the possibility that their "history" might provide any legitimate picture of our past or any valid basis for understanding our present.

Before I can describe those specific outrages, however, I must tell a little about how National Standards for United States History is constructed and about how the writers peddle their ideology. I believe that the writers' refusal to deal with science, medicine and technology as major historical forces is deliberate, is a manifestation of the writers' ideological bent, and must be seen in an ideological context.

Slick but Bogus

The document before us was issued in late October by the National Center for History in the Schools, based at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). The document's whole title is National Standards for United States History: Exploring the American Experience: Grades 5-12, and that title is misleading. There are no national standards for teaching American history, and there won't be any such standards unless a federal panel certifies and promulgates them. So far, that hasn't happened.

The context for understanding this is supplied by Public Law 103-227, the "Goals 2000: Educate America Act," which was signed by President Clinton in March 1994 and which provided for the development of "voluntary national content standards and voluntary national student performance standards that define what all students should know and be able to do" in several realms, including English, mathematics, science, history and geography. To certify such standards, the Act called for a National Education Standards and Improvement Council, whose members were to be appointed by the president. So far, no appointments have been made.

National Standards for United States History does not disclose that. Nicely printed and sporting a four-color cover, it looks like a formal, definitive publication, and it carries a highly misleading preface which cites the Goals 2000 Act and creates the impression that National Standards for United States History is one of the sets of standards that the Act envisioned. There is nothing to tell the reader that, in the context of the Act, the UCLA document is (at most) an uncertified proposal. The preface is signed by Charlotte Crabtree and Gary B. Nash, identified as "Project Co-directors."

National Standards for United States History, then, is a bogus item. It is not what it appears to be. Knowing this is all the more important because the UCLA people have sent many copies of it to educators throughout the country. Maybe they thought that if they printed a slick document and then distributed it widely, they could create a bandwagon effect that would serve their purposes.

Thomas Alva Who?

Even before National Standards for United States History was released to the public, its content and contortions were decried in an essay by Lynne V. Cheney, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute (Washington, D.C.). The essay, titled "The End of History," appeared in The Wall Street Journal on 20 October. Cheney said that UCLA's product pandered to "the forces of political correctness," that it ignored or trivialized important events, themes and persons, and that its picture of the United States was warped and disparaging. To me, some of her charges seemed incredible. For example, I found it hard to believe that UCLA's version of American history included a 14th-century African king but eliminated Edison, Bell and the Wright brothers; nor could I imagine that it mentioned Harriet Tubman six times but didn't cite Robert E. Lee at all. In fact, however, those charges were true.

Cheney's assessment had special significance because she had been chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from May 1986 until January 1993, and she had approved an NEH grant that helped the UCLA organization to develop and produce their "standards." Now, in her Wall Street Journal piece, she asserted that the UCLA people had not complied with statements made in their grant application. The UCLA document, she said, was not the product that the NEH had been led to expect.

Cheney renewed her charges on 26 October, when she confronted Gary B. Nash on The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour. She said that the UCLA crew had cast the story of the United States in terms of failure and oppression, with very little sense of the country's greatness, and she again deplored the omission of important figures. What about Edison, for example?

Nash replied that the UCLA folks were not trying to compile names. "That's what we want to get away from," he said. "We do ask students to understand the role that technology has played in American work, American life, the American economy. But we do not tot up lists of names for students to absorb and spit back . . . ." (That was nonsense. In truth, National Standards for United States History is full of names, including the names of people who are notable only for their lack of notability.)

Margaret Warner, the Newshour journalist who moderated the exchange between Cheney and Nash, now supplied the assumption that students would somehow learn about Edison "in learning about technology," even though the UCLA document ignored him. Nash accepted Warner's gift and said: "Of course [students] would, and that would be in the textbooks, I would imagine, though it is up to textbook-writers to put all of the people and dates and places in." (That was tommyrot. The only textbook-industry people who would ever consider basing a book on the UCLA product are the panderers and shady operators. And as we know from long experience, such people meet curriculum standards by doing whatever mentioning they think is necessary -- and no more than that. If Edison isn't in the standards, you can bet your filament that he won't be in any schoolbook that the shady operators might produce.)

Edison turned up again, a few minutes later, with a signal result. Cheney said to Nash: "In this document, you leave behind the Thomas Edisons, you leave behind the Wright brothers, you leave behind many of the heroic and significant figures in the past, in the name of a more politically correct version of our story."

Nash's only answer was: "If I had included Wright and Edison, Ms. Cheney, would you have noticed the absence of a black inventor and a female inventor?"

So there it was -- out in the open. For Nash, apparently, an inventor's historical significance depended on the inventor's race and sex, and "history" was a matter of juggling racial counts and sexual quotas. Nash even seemed to think Cheney would be remiss if she didn't go along with that nonsense and didn't join him in noticing whether his quotas had been satisfied. (By the way, what Nash implied when he spoke about "the absence of a black inventor" was quite false. Of the very few technologists who are mentioned in the UCLA document, at least two are blacks. Both are noteworthy, but neither is in the same league with, say, Edison or the Wrights.)

Now that we have an idea of what Nash is, we can look more closely at the document that he is promoting.

Eyewash and Indians

The body of National Standards for United States History comprises four chapters, and the first two of these (occupying pages 1 through 33) seem cogent and good. In chapter 1, "Developing Standards in United States History for Students in Grades 5-12," the writers observe that knowledge of history is essential to political intelligence: "Without history," they say, "a society shares no common memory of where it has been, what its core values are, or what decisions of the past account for present circumstances." The writers then set out fourteen criteria for developing standards (starting with "Standards should be intellectually demanding, reflect the best historical scholarship, and promote active questioning and learning . . .") and they introduce three pedagogic principles: periodization, historical understanding, and historical thinking. Chapter 2, "Standards in Historical Thinking," develops the last of those principles, and it offers sound ideas such as these:

[The students] should learn to avoid "present-mindedness" by not judging the past solely in terms of the norms and values of today, but taking into account the historical context in which the events unfolded [page 23]. . . . [Students should not conceive] that events have unfolded inevitably -- that the way things are is the way they had to be . . . . Unless students can conceive that history could have turned out differently, they may unconsciously accept the notion that the future is also inevitable or predetermined, and that human agency and individual action count for nothing. [page 26]. . . . [T]eachers should not use critical events to hammer home a particular "moral lesson" or ethical teaching. Not only will many students reject that approach; it fails also to take into account the processes through which students acquire the complex skills of principled thinking and moral reasoning [page 31].

These guidelines (and many of the others in chapter 2) are fine. But unfortunately, they seem to serve chiefly as eyewash, for they are not honored in the rest of the document. This is one of the things we see when we turn to chapter 3, "United States History Standards for Grades 5-12," which fills 212 pages.

In chapter 3 the writers divide American history into ten periods, starting with "Era 1: Three Worlds Meet (Beginnings to 1620)" and ending with "Era 10: Contemporary United States (1968 to the present)," and they present two to four standards for each era -- 31 standards in all. Then, for each standard, they list criteria that can be used in judging whether students have done the required learning, and they give "examples of student achievement."

These examples form the bulk of the chapter and define the real nature of the UCLA document: Rather than being a concise declaration of standards, National Standards for United States History is actually an elaborate curriculum that often attains considerable detail in prescribing what students should read, which persons they should know about, and what political views they should absorb.

This curriculum is pervaded by multi-culti, and it shows many of multi-culti's ideological elements -- e.g., tribalism, anti-intellectualism, Victimism (including the sanitization and glorification of fashionable Victims), imaginary anthropology, and an undisguised animosity toward Europeans (or "whites").

Things get off to a rousing start as the writers purport to deal with the convergence of American Indians, Europeans and Africans in the New World. There are, in fact, some good ideas here. For example, students are to learn about various Indian cultures, with attention to such things as languages, origin myths, foods, agricultural practices, tools, cultural traditions, and social organization; and they are to learn about West African peoples, with attention to things like folklore, family structures, political structures, works of art, and even "the achievements and grandeur" of the court of Mansa Musa (a 14th-century king of Mali). But wait: Where's the analogous stuff about the Europeans? Aren't the students supposed to study some European cultures and learn about European origin myths, folklore, foods, political structures, agricultural practices, tools, machinery, religious practices, languages, literature, music, and so on? No. Nor are they to learn about the "achievements and grandeur" of any court in, say, Italy. Europeans are to be viewed, almost entirely, in terms of their shipbuilding and navigational skills, their ideas about the "power of the individual," and their propensities for voyaging, exploring and conquering.

That's bad, but we find worse when we look at some of the specific distortions that mark the UCLA crowd's depiction of Indians. For instance, we don't see anything about how any Indians waged war, carried out conquests, or practiced slavery, although various groups of Indians did all those things. (National Standards for United States History evidently seeks to affirm the fashionable Victimist delusion that slavery was unknown in the New World until it was introduced by Europeans.) We do, however, see a number of noble-savage fantasies, such as this "example of student achievement" on page 56:

Compare Native American and European views of the land. How did European beliefs in private property and in their claim to lands that were not "settled" or "improved" differ from Native American beliefs that land was not property, but [was] entrusted by the Creator to all living creatures for their common benefit and shared use?

That is nonsense. Like all the other humans of whom I am aware, the Indians of North America were territorial. Specific groups of Indians (whether they lived in fixed communities or in nomadic bands) claimed control over specific territories, and they used force to repel interlopers. Manifestly, these were not the actions of people who regarded land as something available for shared use by all; they were the actions of people who regarded land as property. Indian concepts of property may not have matched the concepts held by many Europeans, and Indian ideas about the control of land may have focused more strongly on consumable resources (such as prey or water) than on the land per se, but it is undeniable that Indians made proprietary claims to territories and fought to defend those claims. Comparisons between Indian modes of control and some European modes could yield useful ecological and anthropological insights. Instead, the UCLA document promotes pious tripe that might have come from a Victim-of-the-Week handout or from a pamphlet about Stone Age saints.

Here is another "example of student achievement" with some more fake anthropology:

Draw upon anthropological and historical data to develop a sound historical argument on such questions as: Were Native American societies "primitive," as the first Europeans to encounter them believed, or had these societies developed complex patterns of social organization, trading networks, and political culture?

I needn't explain that the whole thing is bogus and deceptive, right down to its false implication that "primitive" and "complex" denote opposite or antithetical conditions. But I must note that the writers' so-called question isn't a question at all: It telegraphs the "correct" answer that the writers' ideology requires, leaving no real possibility that the student will find that the Indians were primitive.

This sort of bald, ideological manipulation recurs at various places in the UCLA product. Here is another case involving Indians -- an "example of student achievement" on page 57: "Develop a historical argument or debate on the long-term effects of the fur trade, considering for example its destruction of animal life; its disruption of traditional Native American relationships with the environment; and its effects in pitting tribe against tribe as their hunting grounds became depleted and they sought to conquer more distant tribes whose resources had not yet been exhausted."

Develop a "debate"? About what? There is no question there. The whole passage is just a lot of wailing about what the evil fur trade did to some Victims. When Diane Ravitch analyzed UCLA's document in Education Week for 7 December, she noted that same passage and she observed that it displays present-mindedness and the preaching of a moral lesson -- two things that the UCLA writers supposedly rejected back in chapter 2.

Robert E. What?

As the UCLA curriculum moves through later historical periods, the writers continue to display their ideological fixations, especially their dedication to Victimism. For example, they show a crankish, distortive preoccupation with slavery and with the fortunes of blacks (both before and after slavery was abolished), and this produces "history" that is warped, preachy, lugubrious and sometimes ludicrous.

The section on "Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)" seems fantastic. Yes, it really does ignore Robert E. Lee, and of course it ignores Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Joseph Johnston and all the other eminent officers who led the armies of the Confederacy. Do Union officers fare any better? Not by much. As far as I can see, the only ones who turn up are Grant and Sherman -- each mentioned once, in the same sentence.

But not to worry. While there is no acknowledgment of Lee, Jackson or Stuart, or of Sheridan, Hooker or Meade, the writers make up for this by producing such names as Belle Boyd, Rose Greenhow, Charlotte Forten, Robert Elliott, Hiram Revels, Blanche Bruce and B.S. Pinchback -- the last three of these being "African Americans who served in state and national offices" during Reconstruction. Plainly, UCLA's version of the Civil War and Reconstruction has less to do with history than with meeting quotas and with trying to apply a patina of notability to figures promoted by pressure groups.

One effect of the document's pervasive attention to Victimism, tribalism and other faddish eccentricities is to underscore the writers' marked aversion to intellectual history and to the history of American scholarship. National Standards for United States History is given almost wholly to the writers' odd forms of political and social "history"; there is little about this country's intellectual life, and even less to tell that the United States has been the home of intellectual giants, from Benjamin Franklin's time to this very day. Students are to read biographies and diaries of slaves and ex-slaves, but I see nothing about reading the diaries of university scholars. Students are to learn about black churches, but not about the great American research institutions. They are to learn about the founding of the NAACP, but not about the founding of any engineering society, medical society or art museum. They are to learn about the travails of displaced Indians, but not about the triumphs of distinguished physicists and physicians.

This brings me, at last, to my analysis of the aberration that I cited at the start of this article: The UCLA writers have erased science and medicine from American history, have ignored or trivialized the cultural roles of technology, and have hidden our country's identity as the foremost scientific and technological power of the 20th century. I do not find that surprising in a document dominated by multi-culti ideology. It reflects, I believe, the multi-culti crowd's deep aversion to science and to acknowledging the global triumph of this unique intellectual system, which was developed, only a few hundred years ago, by Europeans.

Ignoring a Mighty Record

In his book Magic, Science, and Civilization, published in 1978, Jacob Bronowski made a potent observation that, I believe, must be understood by anyone who claims to be educated:

There has been an irreversible step in the cultural evolution of man; it took place at the beginning of the scientific revolution from, say, 1500 to 1700, and it will never be undone. We are committed to a scientific way of thinking and to what it entails, a technological way of acting, and we cannot go back. . . . The step that was taken in the scientific revolution . . . was just as radical as the invention of agriculture, the invention of writing, the invention of poetry and art, or the invention of urban life. All of those are things which we now take for granted in our civilization, but all were irreversible steps, and from the moment that they took place human life changed and nothing could turn it back.

Quite so. And no one can have a hope of comprehending our history unless he comprehends that our world is a product of the scientific revolution and the "technological way of acting" that science has engendered. Science has been the great intellectual adventure of modern times, providing a radically new understanding of our place in the universe, radically new perceptions of ourselves, and new perceptions of how we can influence and enjoy the material world.

Notice (as a rather mundane example) how your own attitudes, hopes and decisions are influenced by your expectations of how long you and your relatives will live; and recognize that your expectations are reflections of science. Since 1905, overall life expectancy in the United States has increased from less than 50 years to more than 75, and the rise has been due largely to applications of science and scientific medicine in the realm of public health.

At a deeper level, notice how your world view has been shaped by the principle on which the scientific revolution was built -- the idea that all of nature conforms to laws which humans can discover but can't alter. Maybe you don't often think about that principle in a deliberate way, but it is always with you: It is, for example, the foundation of your understanding that such phenomena as tides or storms can be predicted and explained, and it is the reason why you don't think that tides are conjured by demons or that storms can be stopped by magical incantations.

Science's niche in American culture and history has another dimension as well, for the United States has produced illustrious scientists who have influenced the development of every major discipline, from astronomy, geology and geography to chemistry, biology and paleontology. Here is a mighty record indeed. It starts with Franklin's inquiries into electricity (not to mention his discovery of the Gulf Stream), and it extends to the present: Since 1930 or so, more Nobel Prizes for work in the natural sciences have been awarded to Americans than to citizens of any other country.

None of this is even acknowledged, let alone developed, in National Standards for United States History. In the opening chapter of eyewash, UCLA's writers suggest that students should learn about "history of science and technology" to gain understandings of "the scientific quest to understand nature," but then they shut science out. Unless I've missed something, the 212-page chapter of standards has only one substantive reference to scientific affairs. On page 95, students are to find out why Lewis and Clark's journey of exploration is "considered one of the most successful scientific expeditions in United States history."

What about individual scientists? As far as I can tell, UCLA's product mentions only four people (other than Lewis and Clark) who contributed to "the scientific quest." Two of these, however, don't count: Franklin and Jefferson are viewed only as political or diplomatic figures, with no acknowledgment of their scientific work. The two others are Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) and George Washington Carver (1864-1943), two blacks who apparently have been included for the sake of filling some quota.

What about medicine and surgery? What about Americans who made signal contributions to, say, epidemiology, immunology, medical microbiology, anesthesiology, or cardiology? And what about the ways in which advances in such fields have affected American life? Those things are simply ignored.

What about technology? Though UCLA's writers have dumped Edison and the Wrights, they actually have retained some of the other great-inventors-and-great-inventions stuff that we all grew up with: Ford, McCormick, Whitney, steam engines, agricultural machines, Civil War weaponry, World War 1 weaponry, and a few other items. It all adds up to very little, and it doesn't begin to suggest a country of people committed to a technological way of acting. Much worse, the UCLA document is almost oblivious to the technology of the 50 years since World War 2. (You will find this hard to believe, but it is so.)

To me, it seems that the exclusion of science from the UCLA document was deliberate. I have inspected the appendix which lists the individuals and groups that allegedly took part in the document's genesis, and I have found that it does not show the History of Science Society or any representative of that organization. Nor do I find any academy of science, any academy of medicine, or any technological museum. I infer, therefore, that the process of writing National Standards for United States History was framed and managed in a way that would deny attention to the history of technological, medical or scientific endeavors.

In a context of multi-culti, this appears to make sense. The ideologues of multi-culti embrace a sort of broad-spectrum anti-intellectualism, of course, but they also seem to harbor a specific, particularly intense hostility toward science, scientific medicine and science-based technology. This, I believe, reflects their resentment of some essential facts: Science is the only intellectual system that lets us understand nature and make reliable predictions about the natural world; science was created by Europeans; and science has reshaped societies all over the globe, chiefly by replacing magic and superstition with rational ways of acquiring verifiable knowledge.

In the realm of education, the multi-culti types use three major strategies for denying those facts:

  • They deride or trivialize science, depicting it as a mere collection of invented beliefs -- a cultural affectation that is favored by "whites" but is no different from folklore.

  • They acknowledge the usefulness of science, but they pretend that there isn't anything new or European about it. They invent stories that attribute imaginary scientific and technological discoveries to whomever they like (and especially to alleged ancestors of popular Victims), and they hope no one will expose these stories as lies.

  • They do their best to ignore science and all it has wrought. They do their best to pretend that science never happened. From my own reading of National Standards for United States History, I conclude that this strategy was adopted by the crew at UCLA.
History educators and science educators alike should scorn UCLA's mess of fake anthropology and cross-eyed "history," and they should resolve that any schoolbooks which may be based on such rubbish will be rejected.

I thank Robert L. Park, of the American Physical Society, for his Internet alert of 21 October, which broadcast the fact that the UCLA bunch had expunged science from American history.

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes frequently about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.


Crabtree and Nash's package of "standards" for American history was thoroughly exposed for what it was, and so was a phony document that Crabtree and Nash had tried to pass off as a collection of official federal standards for teaching world history. In January 1995, both documents were denounced by the United States Senate. Even so, Crabtree and Nash continued to promote their fake documents and continued to deal in misrepresentation and deceit. See "Senate Denounces 'History Standards'; Federal-Standards Effort Appears Dead" in The Textbook Letter, January-February 1995.


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