Social Studies Standards

The following is a summation of the “History Wars” as described in Nash, Crabtree, and Dunn’s book History On Trial.  Although the book was written over ten years ago, the root of the issue surrounding present day topics such as Texas’ standards, standardized testing, and NCLB.

Summary as follows:

Essentially, the wars that are raging over history being taught in the classroom boil down to two sides of the argument.  On one side are traditionalists that believe that history is based on a set of facts that are not open to new interpretations.  Opposed to the traditionalists are so-called “revisionists” who look at history as an ever evolving practice where new perspectives and interpretations of the past are the basis for sound historical research.  The battle over history education was raging in and around the same time as the controversy surrounding the Enola Gay exhibit.  Overall, the history wars, as described by Pat Buchanan, was a “war for the soul of America.”  History, in many respects, is increasingly controversial because it provides so much of the substance for the way a society defines itself and considers what it wants to be.

The idea of “history-as-facts” is not simply uneducated, it is an ideological position of traditionalists and political Right.  This group believes that particular facts, traditions and heroic personalities untainted by “interpretation” represent the true and objective history that citizens ought to know.  Also, traditionalists are upset because new faces are crowding onto the stage and ruining the security of older versions of the past.  Traditionalists further believe that promotion of fact-history will create loyal, proud Americans.  Many historians, however, believe that interpretation—based on carefully on information sifted from many sources—is the heart of historical inquiry.

The revisionist notion of alternative explanations and multiple perspectives is anathema to the traditionalist history-as-fact, history-as-it-has-always-been school.  Those opposing the traditionalist position believe that exposing grim history is essential to create informed, responsible citizens.  In fact, most critique the past to improve the future.  Revisionism is not new in America as it began shortly after the Revolution.  People debated the character, meaning, and legacy of the independence movement.  Other divisive topics include the Civil War and slavery.  Important works of history and new schools of scholarly inquiry have repeatedly triggered controversy.  As Plato said, “Those who tell the stories also hold the power.”  The dilemma seems to boil down to whether recognizing powerless groups (women, blacks, workers, etc.) is political correctness; or a recognition of the link between a democratic society and a more historically complete and accurate rendering of the past.


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