Responding to attacks by conservatives and other critics, the UCLA group that drafted the nation's first standards for teaching history has agreed to review and revise the guidelines to eliminate perceived biases against Western civilization.
"We understand their criticisms and we intend to work very hard considering these criticisms," Gary Nash, co-director of the National Center for History in Schools, said in Washington on Thursday after a four-hour meeting with leading critics. "I'm upbeat about the progress we made."
The history guidelines, unveiled in October, were created as part of a national drive to upgrade kindergarten-through-12th-grade education by setting consistent and high standards for what American students should learn in basic academic areas.
The 271-page document outlines the breadth and depth of history instruction for grades five through 12 and is organized into 10 eras, from pre-colonial societies to contemporary America.
It was immediately assailed as too politically correct, with critics noting that it failed to mention such stalwarts of American history studies as Ulysses S. Grant and the Wright brothers.
Nash, the author of many widely used history textbooks, said some of the problems raised by the critics will be easily resolved. For example, he said, the guidelines' authors will rewrite some of the sample questions offered for teachers to ask students because they seemed worded in a way that would elicit a particular answer. "They contained some leading of the jury," he said.
On other issues, Nash said, it may be "nearly impossible" to find agreement.
Some critics object to the history standards' attempt to compare and contrast world cultures--to include in a lesson about the rise of Rome some discussion of the first great Chinese empire, for instance.
"We want to show the relationships. . . . Western history should be stitched to other parts of the world," Nash said.
Critics, such as Ruth Wattenberg of the American Federation of Teachers, believe that is too sophisticated an approach for elementary school students and for many high school students.
"We think it is important for students to understand each culture separately before doing a lot of sophisticated, intercultural comparisons. That's wonderful college material, wonderful high school material. But first you have to understand the individual cultures," she said.
Wattenberg, who represents the second-largest teachers union in the country, said she would reserve judgment on the promise to correct flaws in the standards until the revisions are released this spring.
She stressed that the standards are only voluntary guidelines that would then have to be adopted at the state level. "We're trying to help them get them into shape so that there will be a market for it," she said.
John Fonte, executive director of the Committee to Review National Standards, was more harsh.
"We consider the standards seriously flawed throughout," he said after Thursday's meeting. "As far as we are concerned, no progress was made."
Fonte's organization is chaired by Lynne V. Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities during the Reagan and Bush Administrations. In October she blasted the standards, calling them "politically correct" and too concerned with negative episodes, such as the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, while skimping on the historical significance of the Constitution.
The standards must be approved by the National Education Standards and Improvement Council before becoming official.