Fordham Institute Reports on the State of U.S. History Standards (Except Rhode Island)
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has studied various State-level U.S. History Standards and come up with a report (PDF). For the most part, they didn’t like what they found with a “majority of states’ standards are mediocre-to-awful.” And, surprise, of all the states, Rhode Island was the only state to receive an N/A (Incomplete). Why?
As of 2010, Rhode Island has chosen not to implement statewide social studies standards….Rhode Island expressly declares its GSEs [Grade Span Expectations…for Civics & Government and Historical Perspectives/Rhode Island History] not to be general social studies or history standards, it would be inappropriate to review them as such.
Perhaps once Rhode Island implements the Common Core standard we’ll have an analysis-worthy standard in place (though I think the initial emphasis is on Math and ELA). Until then, it looks like RI shares the same core problem with History standards with most of the rest of the states across the country. According to Fordham, this is the “submersion of history in the vacuous, synthetic, and anti-historical ‘field’ of social studies.” They quote Dianne Ravitch.
What is social studies? Or, what are social studies? Is it history with attention to current events? Is it a merger of history, geography, civics, economics, sociology, and all other social sciences? … When social studies was first introduced in the early years of the 20th century, history was recognized as the central study of social studies. By the 1930s, it was considered primus inter pares, the first among equals. In the latter decades of the 20th century, many social studies professionals disparaged history with open disdain, suggesting that the study of the past was a useless exercise in obsolescence that attracted antiquarians and hopeless conservatives. (In the late 1980s, a president of the National Council for the Social Studies referred derisively to history as “pastology.”)
They also criticize “overly broad content outlines” (“isolated fragments of decontextualized history”) and the practice of chopping up historical periods across grade levels, which leads to different levels of historical inquiry based on grade level. They also find that there is too much ideological pollution finding its way into History curricula.
In 2003, at the time of the last Fordham review, many state U.S. history standards were plagued by overtly left-wing political tendentiousness and ideological indoctrination. There has been some retreat from such open bias since then. Nonetheless, more recent standards provide abundant evidence that political
correctness remains alive in American classrooms. Lists of specific examples are routinely little more than diversity-driven checklists of historically marginalized groups. North Dakota, in one typical case, offers this slanted, chronologically muddled, and historically nonsensical selection of famous Americans in the early grades: “George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, César Chávez, [and] Sacagawea.” Likewise, in multiple states, the World War II home front is reduced to the experiences of women, African Americans, and interned Japanese Americans — students would hardly guess that all Americans participated in and were personally affected by the war effort. Political bias is, indeed, less strident in many cases than it was in 2003. Yet bias by selective emphasis is still bias….
Also widespread in state history standards is politically correct “presentism” — encouraging students to judge the past by present-day moral and political standards, rather than to comprehend past actions, decisions, and motives in the context of their times. Several states, for example, prod students to fault the revolutionary generation for denying full equality to women and blacks — without explaining that in the context of the late eighteenth century, the idea of government based even on the votes of white, property owning males was itself radical and untested.
But it’s not just the Left:
Even as the left pushes stories of American perfidy, the right counters with triumphal accounts of American
perfection. Conservative bias is as much a form of political correctness as its liberal counterpart: Both seek to use history education to promote an ideological and political agenda. Both are, at best, historically misleading and potentially damaging to our shared values as a nation. Leftist criticism of education gained strength because the old, traditional narrative was overly celebratory and exclusionist. The left went much too far in the other direction: In an effort to include those previously excluded, they all too often excluded those previously included. Yet a return to the old distortions is hardly the answer for twenty-first century America.
Most of today’s state standards either strive for political balance or tilt leftward. Yet there are occasional counter-examples:…The conservative majority on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has openly sought to use the state curriculum to promote its political priorities, molding the telling of the past to justify its current views and aims.
Further, they note that the counterpoised ideologies rely upon each other to maintain a “cycle of self-perpetuation”:
The ultimate irony is that educational ideologues on both left and right feed off each other in an endless cycle of self-righteous distortion. The right believes that political correctness undermines pride in America’s
heritage; hoping to reclaim and restore the “real America,” it seeks to revive a narrow and outmoded historical perspective. The left-wing educational establishment, in turn, continues to present itself as a heroic minority, battling against the traditional “triumphalist” curriculum that they insist still dominates schools — despite the fact that its own views have long since become entrenched educational orthodoxy.
The majority of the Texas SBOE, regrettably, has not sought to redress such left-leaning distortion and ideology by promoting objectivity. They do not, in fact, inherently object to the concept of education as a tool for indoctrination. Rather, they wish to substitute the right ideology (in both senses of the word) for that of the left. Such efforts, laden with contempt for historical scholarship and analysis, are not only harmful in themselves — they play straight into the left-wing victim narrative, strengthening its grip in other states and threatening the progress that has been made in breaking its hold. A reinvigorated left will then further goad the right, leading to a vicious cycle of accusations and politics at the expense of education. The chief casualties are historical comprehension, and the good of the students themselves — which is always the case when education becomes an ideological weapon.