Dole Decries History Standards for Dwelling on the Negative
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the leading candidate for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination, last week attacked the voluntary national history standards in a speech designed to appeal to his party's conservative wing.
Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley responded with criticisms of his own, seeking to distance the Clinton administration from the history standards, which received federal funding under President Bush.
Sen. Dole also criticized affirmative action and bilingual education in his speech to members of the American Legion, who were meeting in Indianapolis. He called for establishing English as the nation's official language and eliminating programs in which children are taught in their native tongues.
Along with the history standards, these are examples of policies promulgated by "liberal, academic elites" to assuage their "elitist guilt," the Kansas Republican said.
"The purpose of the national history standards seems not to be to teach our children certain essential facts about our history, but to denigrate America's story while sanitizing and glorifying other cultures," Mr. Dole said. "This is wrong, and it threatens us as surely as any foreign power ever has."
Mr. Riley issued a strong statement terming the history standards "a setback and a disappointment."
'Not Our Standards'
Later in the week, a luncheon guest asked Mr. Riley to comment on Sen. Dole's remarks after the secretary gave a back-to-school speech at the National Press Club.
"They portray American history in a bad light, and that is a mistake," Mr. Riley said.
"Those aren't our standards," he added. "We had nothing to do with them."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said that Mr. Riley had criticized the history standards in the past. But such remarks have not been widely reported in the media, and he had not issued a formal statement prior to last week.
"He's just making the point because numerous Republicans are saying this is a Clinton administration action," Kerrie Morgan said. "He's making the point that ... we didn't have anything to do with them."
The history standards have been widely criticized, especially by conservatives, since their release last year.
Other GOP presidential contenders--commentator Patrick J. Buchanan and Lamar Alexander, the former Secretary of Education--had already joined in.
Indeed, Mr. Dole's high-profile, Labor Day speech echoed specific criticisms that had been raised by Mr. Alexander; another former secretary of education, William J. Bennett; and Lynne V. Cheney, the former chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, who had initially championed the standards project.
Mr. Dole was also jumping on a moving bandwagon in criticizing bilingual programs at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment appears to be growing, and one of his rivals, California Gov. Pete Wilson, has made curbing services for illegal immigrants a cornerstone of his campaign.
U.S. English, a group that advocates making English the nation's official language, noted in a statement that Mr. Wilson, Mr. Buchanan, and another GOP presidential candidate, Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., have endorsed the idea.
President Clinton, while governor of Arkansas, signed legislation making English the official language in that state but has not supported any such initiative on the national level.
"We must stop the practice of multilingual education as a means of instilling ethnic pride, or as a therapy for low self-esteem, or out of elitist guilt over a culture built on the traditions of the West," Mr. Dole said last week.
James J. Lyons, the executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education, said the remarks were "part and parcel of a xenophobic foray."
"These are perilous times for the [federal bilingual] program," Mr. Lyons said, "and more importantly, for kids."
Revisions Under Way
But Mr. Dole reserved most of his criticism for the history standards, which he said "suggest we teach our students about America by concentrating on some of our worst moments: the scourge of McCarthyism and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan."
He said the standards document neglects to mention that George Washington was the first president; does not mention such figures as Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Paul Revere; and first mentions the U.S. Constitution as a vehicle used to maintain slavery.
"After years of that, would you love America?" Mr. Dole asked.
Supporters of the standards contend that the chorus of critics Mr. Dole has joined has, in many cases, misrepresented the document.
For example, in addition to suggesting that 7th and 8th graders be able to discuss "the slavery compromises" involved in securing approval for the Constitution, the standards include a thorough discussion of the factors and process leading to the creation and ratification of the Constitution.
The Council for Basic Education, a private Washington-based group, has convened two groups of scholars and historians to make recommendations for revision of the proposed world and U.S. history standards.
The report from those groups is expected next month. (See Education Week, June 21, 1995.)
The Education Department and the National Endowment for the Humanities provided $1.6 million in 1992 to help pay for developing them.
The federal government has also contributed to other such projects.
Educators are developing voluntary national standards in 12 subject-matter areas.
Some observers expressed concern last week that the movement to improve schools by raising standards could be imperiled if standards are made a political issue by candidates who address such an effort on only a superficial level.
"What concerns me is the idea of standards becomes kind of a negative concept," said Diane Ravitch, a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution who served as an Education Department official under President Bush and who is among the scholars convened by the CBE.
"I'd like to see a more substantive discussion at the national level," said Ms. Ravitch, who supports the idea of voluntary academic standards but has been critical of some parts of the history standards. "It's not a simple topic, and sound bites on various sides are unsatisfying and often wrong."
Although Mr. Riley sought to distance his department from the standards, another top official said in an interview earlier in the week that Mr. Dole's comments unfairly discounted the long effort by many states to set content standards for their schools.
"I think it was kind of a cheap shot," said Marshall S. Smith, the undersecretary of education. "I was hoping somebody was going to ask him if he read the history standards."
"I hope he doesn't generalize it to all of the standards," Mr. Smith added. "There are some states that are beginning to develop some strong standards leading to increased academic rigor."
Jeanne Allen, the president of the Washington-based Center for Education Reform, said she agrees with Mr. Dole's criticisms of the history standards. But she complained that he did not offer any alternatives.
"It's good that he raised this issue, but he didn't go far enough," she said. "Here's the problem, but what's the solution?"
Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, a conservative Washington think tank, praised Mr. Dole and argued that themes like academic standards, bilingual education, and affirmative action are "very sustainable over the course of a campaign."
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas spent part of his Labor Day holiday last week speaking to the national convention of the American Legion in Indianapolis. The Republican presidential candidate criticized proposed national standards for U.S. history and spoke of the need to teach English to all immigrant children. Following are excerpts from his speech:
On U.S. history standards:
"There have been dark moments in our past. There are still cruel elements in our culture. We should not sanitize them when we teach our children the history of America and Western civilization. But we should not politicize them, either, as too many educators and professors in our schools and universities today are attempting to do. There is a shocking campaign afoot among educators at all levels--most evident in the national history standards already distributed to more than 20,000 teachers, administrators, and professors--to disparage America and disown the ideas and traditions of the West."
"The purpose of the national history standards seems not to be to teach our children certain facts about our history, but to denigrate America's story while sanitizing and glorifying other cultures. This is wrong, and it threatens us as surely as any foreign power ever has."
On language education:
"If one of the most important missions of our schools is to make citizens of our children, and I believe that it is, fluency in English should be a central educational goal of every state in our nation."
"Yes, schools should provide the language classes our immigrants and their families need, as long as their purpose is the teaching of English. We have done this since our founding to speed the melting of our melting pot. But we must stop the practice of multilingual education as a means of instilling ethnic pride, or as a therapy for low self-esteem or out of elitist guilt over a culture built on the traditions of the West."