Diverse Panel To Revamp N.Y. History Curriculum

September 05, 1990 2 min read

The New York State Board of Regents has appointed a panel to revise the state’s public-school history curriculum that includes scholars and educators representing a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and viewpoints on the controversial issue.

Members of minority groups will hold a slim majority on the panel, which includes 11 elementary and secondary educators and 12 scholars. Named in late July, its charge is to develop the syllabuses and supporting materials for a history curriculum that focuses more attention on minorities and their cultures.

Debate over the state’s effort to revise the curriculum erupted last year, when a task force appointed by Comioner of Education Thomas Sobol charged that the state’s current textbooks were filled with “hidden assumptions of white supremacy.”

The group’s report, called “A Curriculum of Inclusion,” was denounced by historians and others, some of whom called it a “temper tantrum.”

In naming the new commission, state school officials said they deliberately sought to exclude “extremes” of opinion. Unlike the previous panel, which included only one white, the new commission is made up of 11 whites, six blacks, four Hispanics, one Asian, and one Native American.

“I think this committee is going to have a lively time because not all of these folks see the world in the same way,” said Mr. Sobol. “But I think the extremes of ideology have been excluded and we will find it possible to move toward a united and constructive position.”

The new panel includes Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., a prominent historian who has been openly critical of the state’s efforts. Mr. Schlesinger, a professor of humanities at the City University of New York, and the education historian Diane Ravitch this summer organized a committee of scholars who contended that the proposal offered last year would reduce the teaching of history to “ethnic cheerleading on the demand of pressure groups.” (See Education Week, Aug. 1, 1990.)

Ms. Ravitch, an adjunct professor of history and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, was not included on the panel. Mr. Schlesinger will serve on it as a part-time consultant.

Other historians appointed to the new committee include Paul A. Gagnon, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts who helped redesign California’s history curriculum, and Kenneth T. Jackson, a professor of history and social science at Columbia University.

Mr. Jackson served as chairman of the Bradley Commission on History in the Schools, which issued an influential report on the field in 1988, and currently heads the National Council for History Education.

State officials also appointed some scholars who have argued in favor of the development of multicultural and Afrocentric educational programs. They include Asa Hilliard, a professor of educational psychology at Georgia State University who helped develop an Afrocentric curriculum used in the Portland, Ore., schools, and Ali Al’Amin Mazrui, who holds the Albert Schweitzer Chair at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Other prominent scholars on the committee include the historian and social scientist Nathan Glazer, of the graduate school of education at Harvard University, and J. Jorge Klor de Alva, a member of the department of anthropology at Princeton University.--DV

A version of this article appeared in the September 05, 1990 edition of Education Week as Diverse Panel To Revamp N.Y. History Curriculum