Booklet That Upset Mrs. Cheney Is History

The Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion destroyed 300,000 par­ent guides on “How to Help Your Child Learn His­to­ry” because Mrs. Cheney did­n’t like a ref­er­ence to one of her pet peeves.
Big Sis­ter, anyone?

Pub­lished on Fri­day, Octo­ber 8, 2004 by the Los Ange­les Times
Book­let That Upset Mrs. Cheney Is History
The Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion destroys 300,000 par­ent guides to remove ref­er­ences to nation­al standards.
by Ricar­do Alon­so-Zal­divar and Jean Merl

WASHINGTON — The Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment this sum­mer destroyed more than 300,000 copies of a book­let designed for par­ents to help their chil­dren learn his­to­ry after the office of Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney’s wife com­plained that it men­tioned the Nation­al Stan­dards for His­to­ry, which she has long opposed.

In June, dur­ing a rou­tine update, the Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment began dis­trib­ut­ing a new edi­tion of a 10-year-old how-to guide called “Help­ing Your Child Learn His­to­ry.” Aimed at par­ents of chil­dren from preschool through fifth grade, the 73-page book­let pre­sent­ed an assort­ment of advice, includ­ing tak­ing chil­dren to muse­ums and vis­it­ing his­tor­i­cal sites.

Extreme­ly trou­bling. That’s a pret­ty god-awful exam­ple of spend­ing the tax­pay­ers’ mon­ey and also a pret­ty god-awful exam­ple of inter­fer­ence — intel­lec­tu­al inter­fer­ence. If that’s not Big Broth­er or Big Sis­ter, I don’t know what is.

Retired UCLA pro­fes­sor Gary Nash, co-chair­man of the effort to devel­op the Nation­al Stan­dards for History
The book­let includ­ed sev­er­al brief ref­er­ences to the Nation­al Stan­dards for His­to­ry, which were devel­oped at UCLA in the mid-1990s with fed­er­al sup­port. Cre­at­ed by schol­ars and edu­ca­tors to help school offi­cials design bet­ter his­to­ry cours­es, they are vol­un­tary bench­marks, not manda­to­ry requirements.

At the time, Lynne Cheney, the wife of now-Vice Pres­i­dent Cheney, led a vocif­er­ous cam­paign com­plain­ing that the stan­dards were not pos­i­tive enough about Amer­i­ca’s achieve­ments and paid too lit­tle atten­tion to fig­ures such as Gen. Robert E. Lee, Paul Revere and Thomas Edison.

At one point in the ini­tial con­tro­ver­sy, Cheney denounced the stan­dards as “politi­cized history.”

In response to the crit­i­cism, the UCLA stan­dards were heav­i­ly revised, most crit­ics were mol­li­fied and the con­tro­ver­sy fad­ed — but not for Cheney and her staff.

“Help­ing Your Child Learn His­to­ry” is not unique. The Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment pro­duces a series of sim­i­lar book­lets on top­ics such as sci­ence, geog­ra­phy, read­ing and math. The book­lets are designed to encour­age par­ents to get involved in their chil­dren’s edu­ca­tion. Often, they con­tain pass­ing ref­er­ences to the kinds of cur­ricu­lum stan­dards that schol­ars and edu­ca­tors have devel­oped in recent years to improve school cours­es. More than 9 mil­lion copies of such book­lets have been distributed.

Sel­dom have the book­lets sparked con­tro­ver­sy. That changed this summer.

As the wife of the vice pres­i­dent, Cheney has no exec­u­tive posi­tion in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. But when her office spot­ted the ref­er­ences to the Nation­al Stan­dards for His­to­ry in the new edi­tion of the his­to­ry book­let, her staff com­mu­ni­cat­ed its dis­plea­sure to the Edu­ca­tion Department.

Sub­se­quent­ly, the depart­ment decid­ed it was nec­es­sary to kill the new edi­tion and reprint it with ref­er­ences to the stan­dards removed. Though about 61,000 copies of “Help­ing Your Child Learn His­to­ry” had been dis­trib­uted, the remain­ing 300,000-plus copies were destroyed. Asked about the deci­sion, one depart­ment offi­cial said they had been “recy­cled.”

The Times obtained a copy of the book­let as orig­i­nal­ly printed.

A new ver­sion of the book­let, the basis for the ver­sion that is being print­ed, is on the Edu­ca­tion Depart­men­t’s web­site. It has been edit­ed to remove ref­er­ences to the standards.

For exam­ple, a clause in the fore­word was removed that sug­gest­ed Pres­i­dent Bush sup­port­ed instruc­tion based on teach­ing stan­dards that had been devel­oped for var­i­ous aca­d­e­m­ic subjects.

Also miss­ing from the depart­men­t’s Inter­net ver­sion is a sug­ges­tion that par­ents ask whether their chil­dren’s cur­ricu­lum incor­po­rates the Nation­al Stan­dards for His­to­ry. An Inter­net address for the stan­dards in a list of more than a dozen web­sites for par­ents was also removed, as well as a foot­note else­where in the text that shows where to find more infor­ma­tion about the his­to­ry standards.

When The Times ini­tial­ly approached the Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment to inquire about the book­lets, the depart­ment issued a state­ment say­ing it had tak­en the unusu­al action because of “mis­takes, includ­ing typos and incom­plete information.”

Lat­er, Susan Aspey, the depart­men­t’s press sec­re­tary, admit­ted that typo­graph­i­cal errors were not the rea­son. Asked about the role of Cheney’s office, Aspey responded:

“The deci­sion was ours to stop dis­tri­b­u­tion and reprint. Both offices were on par­al­lel tracks and obvi­ous­ly nei­ther of us were pleased that the final doc­u­ment was not the accu­rate reflec­tion of pol­i­cy that was approved originally.”

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Cheney said her office did not order the destruc­tion of the book­lets. “Unequiv­o­cal­ly, [nei­ther] Mrs. Cheney nor her staff insist­ed on hav­ing the his­to­ry pub­li­ca­tion recalled,” said spokes­woman Maria Miller. “And that’s just the bot­tom line.”

How­ev­er, nei­ther depart­ment offi­cials nor Cheney’s office would dis­cuss the episode in detail. Both refused to allow inter­views with the staffers involved.

Indi­vid­u­als with knowl­edge of the events said com­plaints from Cheney’s office moved the Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment to act. The indi­vid­u­als spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Retired UCLA pro­fes­sor Gary Nash, co-chair­man of the effort to devel­op the Nation­al Stan­dards for His­to­ry, said he found the deci­sion to destroy the book­lets after Cheney’s office com­plained “extreme­ly troubling.”

“That’s a pret­ty god-awful exam­ple of spend­ing the tax­pay­ers’ mon­ey and also a pret­ty god-awful exam­ple of inter­fer­ence — intel­lec­tu­al inter­fer­ence,” Nash said. “If that’s not Big Broth­er or Big Sis­ter, I don’t know what is.”

Accord­ing to Michelle M. Her­c­zog, a con­sul­tant in his­to­ry and social sci­ences for the Los Ange­les Coun­ty Office of Edu­ca­tion, the stan­dards have become a resource for many states in devel­op­ing cur­ricu­lum guide­lines. They are also used to devel­op textbooks.

“Why the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion would take that out of a fed­er­al doc­u­ment for par­ents is just beyond me,” said Her­c­zog, who was not involved in the devel­op­ment of the standards.

The answer is that, from their incep­tion, the Amer­i­can his­to­ry guide­lines have been caught in an ide­o­log­i­cal feud.

Cheney led the charge on the orig­i­nal UCLA draft. In a wide­ly read opin­ion piece pub­lished in 1994, she com­plained that “We are a bet­ter peo­ple than the Nation­al Stan­dards indi­cate, and our chil­dren deserve to know it.”

The stan­dards con­tained repeat­ed ref­er­ences to the Ku Klux Klan and to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the anti-Com­mu­nist dem­a­gogue of the 1950s, she said. And she not­ed that Har­ri­et Tub­man, the escaped slave who helped run the Under­ground Rail­road, was men­tioned six times.

But Revere, Lee, the Wright broth­ers and oth­er promi­nent fig­ures went unmen­tioned, she said.

Such com­plaints led to revi­sion of the standards.

Recent­ly, when the depart­ment decid­ed to update “Help­ing Your Child Learn His­to­ry,” Cheney’s office became involved because of her long-stand­ing inter­est in Amer­i­can history.

Cheney is promi­nent­ly quot­ed in the book­let as a “not­ed author and wife of the vice pres­i­dent.” Two books on his­to­ry that she wrote for chil­dren are men­tioned in the booklet.

The acknowl­edg­ments also cred­it her office for help­ing with the guide, which cost $110,360 to print, Aspey said.

As head of the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Human­i­ties under Pres­i­dents Rea­gan and George H.W. Bush, Cheney approved some of the fund­ing for the Nation­al Stan­dards for His­to­ry project, but she also issued a blis­ter­ing cri­tique of social sci­ence edu­ca­tion, which is list­ed as a resource in the booklet.

The his­to­ry book­let was first pub­lished in 1993. Hav­ing made edu­ca­tion reform a cen­ter­piece of its domes­tic agen­da, the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion decid­ed to update the series.

As the Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment pre­pared the new edi­tion, Cheney’s office reviewed drafts and pro­vid­ed mate­ri­als but the sec­ond lady was not per­son­al­ly involved, an aide said.

The ref­er­ences to the Nation­al His­to­ry Stan­dards were added at the Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment after Cheney’s office signed off on an ini­tial draft that did not men­tion them. Aspey said it was appar­ent­ly done for con­sis­ten­cy, because such stan­dards were referred to in the depart­men­t’s oth­er guide­books for parents.

Aspey said men­tion of the stan­dards implied offi­cial approval. “We don’t endorse Nation­al Stan­dards for His­to­ry, and the doc­u­ment that was print­ed is not an accu­rate reflec­tion of the pol­i­cy of the gov­ern­ment right now,” she said.

New York Uni­ver­si­ty edu­ca­tor Diane Rav­itch, who launched the “Help­ing Your Child Learn” series of pub­li­ca­tions as a for­mer high-rank­ing Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment offi­cial, said it was a mis­take to sug­gest that the his­to­ry stan­dards were a tem­plate for the country.

Nonethe­less, Rav­itch said, “I would have had a hard time recall­ing [the book­let], because I think the recall makes a big issue of some­thing nobody would have paid atten­tion to otherwise.”
© Copy­right 2004 Los Ange­les Times

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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