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A great national controversy over the setting of voluntary standards for the teaching of history in our elementary and high schools erupted in 1994, opening up a new front in the nation's culture wars. As the authors Gary B. Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross E. Dunn show, this phenomenon was not unfamiliar in the United States. Public debate over history has frequently occurred during the past two centuries, usually involving a clash of views, along the ideological spectrum, regarding the objectives of education in a democratic society. What, the authors ask, is the purpose of teaching history to children? Do we revise and reinterpret the past to tell previously ignored stories because they reflect present-day democratic values and speak to the issues of our own time? Or do we believe that the primary role of schools, textbooks, and museums is to preserve traditional versions of the past, to teach the basic facts, and to instill patriotism in our students? How has this country grappled with these questions and developed its standards in contrast to other nations?
As head of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 through 1992, Lynne Cheney funded the creation of national standards in various disciplines. History was assigned to an office at the University of California, Los Angeles--designated the National Center for History in the Schools-- where Nash and his colleagues began to gather ideas and opinions from all sectors of the educational community. After the standards were written and published in 1994, Cheney attacked them in the Wall Street Journal for being too politically correct, for not adequately recognizing some of the great figures of the past, and for giving too much attention to women and minority groups. Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, and other conservative voices denounced the standards and their writers in a media war that continued for more than a year and culminated in action by the U.S. Senate. History on Trial tells the story of this rancorous debate, how changes in the standards were made, and how the resulting documents are now being widely used in our schools to further the accessibility and relevance of history.
History on Trial will be available in paperback from Vintage Books in the Fall 1999.
PRAISE FOR History on Trial:
"An important and accessible book.... It is a wonderfully clear and concise overview of the changing ways in which Americans have, since the beginning of the republic, perceived and argued about our past."
--Lawrence W. Levine, Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review
"History on Trial is a necessary book.... Like the standards of which it is a belated and eloquent defense, it's a service to the nation's history teachers and a very serviceable document--altogether a worthy, thorough, commendable effort. almost, I imagine, enough to make one believe in historical progress after all."
--Michael Berube, The Nation