Cavazos Says Action on Holocaust Curriculum Was Unfair

By Julie A. Miller — March 29, 1989 4 min read

Washington--Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos has told lawmakers that Education Department officials acted unfairly in denying funding for dissemination of a curriculum on the Holocaust.

Mr. Cavazos also promised those attending a meeting on March 7 that the controversial course of study would not receive such treatment in the future.

Department officials had previously denied that they had done anything wrong. But an aide to Representative Ted Weiss, Democrat of New York, said the Secretary “was quite apologetic” at the meeting, which the aide attended.

The curriculum,"Facing History and Ourselves,” uses the events surrounding the extermination of European Jews by Nazi Germany to explore questions of morality, law, and citizenship. Although it is included in the National Diffusion Network, which informs schools about “innovative” curricula, it has repeatedly been denied a dissemination grant.

“I’m encouraged that the Secretary of Education now knows what’s going on,” Margot Stern Strom, executive director of the Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation, said last week. “I hope this new attitude and new scrutiny will be passed on to the bureaucrats in the department who are the decisionmakers.”

But Ms. Strom added that she was “disappointed that the Department of Education didn’t find a way to resolve this that was satisfactory in terms of money.”

“If there was wrongdoing,” she said, “there should have been a correction.”

“I hope Mr. Cavazos’ new position is a sign that the new Administration will pursue a different agenda,” added Max McConkey, head of the National Dissemination Study Group, an organization of professionals who work with the ndn Mr. McConkey was a vocal critic of the way the program was handled under the Reagan Administration.

In 1986 and 1987, the “Facing History” program was given low marks by reviewers, who critics complained were selected for their conservative views. Controversy 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.

More recently, critics charged that Shirley Curry, formerly director of the department’s recognition division, manipulated the 1988 competition for ndn grants to block funding for “Facing History.”

The program received high scores from 1988 review panelists and was recommended for funding by the ndn staff, according to sources in the department’s office of educational research and improvement. But Ms. Curry decided not to fund any applicants in three categories, including the one in which “Facing History” had applied.

O.eri sources said she acted solely to deny the program a grant. They recalled that she had told them she was motivated by the antipathy toward the curriculum expressed by Phyllis Schlafly, founder of Eagle Forum, a conservative group.

“What Mr. Cavazos said is what had been said publicly before--that there was a bad management decision to exclude [categories] after the fact,” Bill R. Phillips, the Secretary’s chief of staff, said of the recent meeting.

But Mr. Weiss’s aide said the Secretary went further than that at the meeting, which was also attended by Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Mr. Cavazos “said that what had happened with the peer-review process was wrong and gave his personal guarantee that there would be no political interference in the future,” the aide reported. “He was not specific about what had been done wrong, but he did use that language.’'

At an October hearing before Mr. Weiss’s governmental affairs subcommittee, Ms. Curry insisted that she had acted because there wasmore “educational need” for programs in other areas. Other department officials have taken a similar public position on the issue.

Mr. Cavazos himself wrote a letter to Mr. Weiss in January in which he promised that in future competitions the department would decide in advance which categories to fund, but did not admit any wrongdoing. (See Education Week, Jan. 11, 1989.)

The 1988 funding decisions “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 grant award recommendations,” Mr. Cavazos wrote.

The Secretary was responding to a letter in which Mr. Weiss and 65 other lawmakers had asked him to give “Facing History” a grant from his discretionary fund.

Mr. Weiss also said in January that he was considering a “legislative solution.”

But his aide said last week that the Congressman was satisfied that Mr. Cavazos was trying to make amends.

“Mr. Weiss was impressed with what Mr. Cavazos had to say [at this month’s meeting], and we’re hopeful that ‘Facing History’ will get fair treatment next time,” the aide said. “At this point, it would be inappropriate to introduce legislation to correct a problem the Secretary says has been corrected.”

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A version of this article appeared in the March 29, 1989 edition of Education Week as Cavazos Says Action on Holocaust Curriculum Was Unfair