Federal Federal File

‘Big Sister’

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — October 19, 2004 2 min read
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Lynne V. Cheney made no secret of her distaste for the national history standards when they were drafted a decade ago. Her scathing critique of the documents, which were underwritten by the National Endowment of the Humanities during her tenure as chairwoman, set off a firestorm and led to an extensive review of the standards by a panel of prominent scholars.

While the final documents were widely endorsed, apparently Mrs. Cheney, whose husband is now the vice president of the United States, is still not happy with them.

The Department of Education destroyed more than 300,000 copies of a pamphlet for parents this past summer after Mrs. Cheney’s staff pointed out that the publication referred to the standards several times.

A scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Mrs. Cheney has no executive authority in the Bush administration. But since she is quoted in the 73-page booklet, “Helping Your Child Learn History,” Education Department staff members sent a review copy to her staff. References to the standards were inserted later to make the booklet consistent with those in other subjects, according to department spokeswoman Susan Aspey.

Mrs. Cheney’s staff raised questions about the additions—as well as several typos—in the first printing. Department staff members decided to “recycle,” in Ms. Aspey’s words, those booklets and have them reprinted, sans the references.

The references “appeared to be an explicit endorsement of the national standards,” Ms. Aspey said in an e-mail to Education Week. “We don’t support the standards; these booklets have a long shelf life, and we decided to reprint the booklets so parents have the most accurate information.”

The initial print run cost about $110,000.

“There really has been no controversy over the revised standards,” said Gary B. Nash, a professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, who directed the standards effort. “So now to censor a Department of Education pamphlet and remove any mention to the standards, . . . this is an atrocious example of ‘Big Sister’ still at work.”

Others suggested the exercise perhaps drew more attention to the national standards than if the references had been left alone.

“They turned a nonevent, the reissue of a minor parents’ guide, into a news story,” said Gilbert T. Sewall, the president of the American Textbook Council, which reviews history texts. “I can’t believe this is anything but a waste.”

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