Cavazos Backs Holocaust-Study Rejection

By Julie A. Miller — January 11, 1989 3 min read

Washington--Rebuffing an appeal by 66 members of the Congress, Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos has reaffirmed his department’s decision not to fund dissemination of a controversial curriculum on the Holocaust.

A leading critic of the department’s action, Representative Ted Weiss, Democrat of New York, in an interview expessed dissatisfaction with Mr. Cavazos’s response and vowed to push legislation both to secure funding for “Facing History and Ourselves” and to ensure fairness in future competitions for National Diffusion Network grants.

Mr. Weiss had held a hearing of his intergovernmental affairs subcommittee in October on charges that a department official had manipulated the 1988 award process to deny “Facing History” a grant. (See Education Week, Oct. 26, 1988.)

“I would have hoped that Mr. Cavazos would have taken a fresh look at the situation and not be snowed by the bureaucracy, which is what obviously happened,” Mr. Weiss said last week. “The process was clearly flawed, and this program has been given a raw deal,” he said, noting that it had been turned down for funding three times under highly contentious circumstances.

In 1986 and 1987, the program was given low marks by reviewers who, critics charged, were selected for their conservative views. A storm of debate erupted over the comments of some reviewers, one of whom said the curriculum failed to represent the views of the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

The program received high scores from 1988 review panelists and was recommended for funding by the ndn staff. But Shirley Curry, then serving as director of the Education Department’s recognition division, decided not to fund any applicants in three categories, including the one in which “Facing History” had applied.

Sources in the office of educational research and improvement said that Ms. Curry acted solely to deny the program a grant, and recalled that she had told them she was motivated by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly’s dislike of the curriculum. Ms. Curry is a former member of the board of directors of Eagle Forum, which Ms. Schlafly heads.

At the October hearing, Ms. Curry denied the charges and contended that there was more “educational need” for programs in other areas.

In a letter also signed by 65 other House members, Mr. Weiss asked Mr. Cavazos to investigate and to consider giving “Facing History” a grant from his discretionary fund.

“I want to assure you that I have thoroughly reviewed this matter and have found no evidence of antisemitic bias against the ‘Facing History and Ourselves’ program,” Mr. Cavazos said in a letter to Mr. Weiss.

Mr. Cavazos said the 1988 funding decisions for the ndn “were made on the basis of priorities determined by the department and the program office” under “an established practice which is within the department’s guidelines for making grand award recommendations.”

In the future, he said, the department would decide which categories to fund before the ndn competition began.

Max McConkey, head of the National Dissemination Study Group, an organization of professionals who work with the ndn, criticized Mr. Cavazos’s stance. Although the Secretary promised “fair and equitable processes for the future and a fair and open examination of what happened last year,” Mr. McConkey said, he “pulled back from that promise on both fronts.”

“It doesn’t appear a thorough investigation was conducted, as key people were not contacted,” he added.

A department spokesman said officials would not specify how the investigation was conducted. However, oeri sources supported Mr. McConkey’s contention that employees who work on the ndn were not interviewed.

Critics had not charged Ms. Curry with anti-Semitism, Mr. McConkey said, or questioned her authority to act as she did--only the fairness of her actions.

Finally, he said, Mr. Cavazos’ promise is not an adequate safeguard against a recurrence.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 1989 edition of Education Week as Cavazos Backs Holocaust-Study Rejection