NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ837198
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Jan
Pages: 4
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
ISSN: ISSN-0018-2745
The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good in the National History Standards Controversy
Dunn, Ross E.
History Teacher, v42 spec iss p21-24 Jan 2009
In this article, the author appropriates from Clint Eastwood's film simply to organize a few remarks on his experience working with Gary Nash on the project to develop the U.S. national standards for history back in the mid 1990s. Sound bites are a powerful political tool, and it did not take them long to realize that the attacks on the standards initiated by Lynne Cheney, the ex-head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the ultra-conservative media were entirely political. This is the Ugly part of the National History Standards controversy. The campaign to discredit the guidelines had almost nothing to do in any genuine way with the quality of history education in the United States and nearly everything to do with the Congressional elections of November 1994. The Bad consequence of the controversy was that the standards became, to use Nash's phrase, politically "radioactive." Despite the efforts that Nash and the National Center for History in the Schools made to revise the standards judiciously with advice from a high-profile commission of educational, political, and business leaders, no state government or big city school district could adopt them outright as the foundation of their history-social studies curriculum. The standards were from the start meant to be voluntary, and not be imposed on American schools, as Cheney and her allies intimated. Even though educators overwhelmingly praised them, few public officials of either party wanted to be accused of harboring derogatory, gloomy, and unpatriotic views of American history or Western civilization. So, what Good came out of the standards project? For one thing, the controversy itself provoked so much public interest that the National Center sold some 70,000 copies of the first edition of the standards in the first few months. They went to schools, libraries, museums, boards, education agencies, public interest organizations, teachers, and parents. The controversy also triggered a broader national conversation about the importance of history education. Also, when the states began developing their own standards, many of them drew on the national guidelines to one degree or another, for example, the adoption of the standards' periodization of world history. The documents have also been used as templates and resources for a number of independent educational projects. And they figure in some of the professional development that schools and colleges have recently carried out under federal Teaching American History grants. (Contains 1 note.)
Society for History Education. California State University, Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, CA 90840-1601. Tel: 562-985-2573; Fax: 562-985-5431; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A