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By Ellen Sorokin - THE WASHINGTON TIMES
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are not included in the revised version of the New Jersey Department of Education history standards - a move some critics view as political correctness at its worst.
The Pilgrims and the Mayflower also are excluded, as well as the word "war," which has been replaced with "conflict" in lessons about the early settlers, colonization and expansion.
Also gone are most references to the inhumane treatment many American soldiers endured in wars overseas during the 20th century. However, the standards specifically note that students should identify slavery, the Holocaust and modern Iraq as examples "in which people have behaved in cruel and inhumane ways."
The latest revisions to the state standards have disappointed educators across the country, who said the board's exclusion of the Founding Fathers' names is "political correctness at the end of the nth degree."
"This is what you call a historical irresponsibility," said David Saxe, a Penn State University education professor who reviews state history standards nationwide for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington. The foundation gave the New Jersey history standards a failing grade the last time it reviewed them.
New Jersey's current history standards, which also exclude most historical figures, were approved in 1996. Those standards were revised earlier this month and have not yet been approved by the state.
State school officials argue they do not need to list all the well-known historical figures - like other states' history or social studies standards do - because teachers will know they have to talk about the country's first president and the other Founding Fathers when the lesson on American history comes up.
"It's pretty obvious what needs to be taught," said Jay Doolan, the acting assistant commissioner of the state's Division of Academic and Career Standards.
State educators said the standards do include a requirement that students "recognize the names of some major figures in American history" – a generalization that Mr. Saxe said is a "cop out."
"It's unimaginable to us why teachers wouldn't teach students about George Washington when they talk about the new nation," Mr. Doolan said. "It's also hard to imagine that when our students learn about Thanksgiving, that they won't learn about the Pilgrims, who they were and why they came here. ... We don't intentionally exclude certain names. But how long should the list of names be? Who do we include or not include?"
Some states like Virginia and Indiana also don't include the Pilgrims in their standards. In some cases, the Pilgrims are referred to as early settlers, early Europeans, European colonizers or newcomers, although most textbooks still call them Pilgrims.
"[The word] Pilgrim implies religion," said Brian Jones, vice president for Communications and Policy at the Education Leaders Council in Washington. "It's getting more difficult to talk about the Bible and the Puritans."
But if the state leaves out specific names and events in its standards, then teachers must defer to history textbooks that are written by national and state committees, Mr. Saxe argued.
"We're still at the mercy of the textbook, and that defeats the purpose of standards," Mr. Saxe said. "This pretty much lets classroom teachers do what they want. I have no trouble with that if it's a competent teacher. But what about those who are not?"
Mr. Doolan said the state board does not set a state curriculum but rather a general guideline, which local school districts then use to come up with their own lesson plans.
The state also writes a curriculum framework, which includes a "Suggested Topics" section recommending what teachers should teach. The current framework, adopted in 1999, suggests that teachers teach about the administrations of Washington, John Adams and Jefferson.
The 1999 framework will most likely be revised when the new history standards are adopted.
"Our standards have always been fairly general because it's up to the districts to follow up on them," Mr. Doolan said. "The districts will take the standards and flesh out what contents should be taught."
Although state board officials did not include any Founding Fathers or other well-known American figures, they did add, in their first draft, the names of slavery opponents Theodore Dwight Weld and Angelina and Sarah Grimke in the section about the Civil War and Reconstruction period.
Why include them and not Washington or Jefferson? "We wanted to make sure to include those three names because they're not readily known to most and we don't know whether the teachers will know to teach them," Mr. Doolan said.
John Fonte, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, charged that the state of New Jersey is not interested in getting to the core of American history. "Obviously, there are anti-patriotic forces at work at the New Jersey legislature." Mr. Fonte is referring to the 13-year-long debate that has gone on in the state legislature on whether to allow public school students to recite a passage from the Declaration of Independence.
Last summer, the New Jersey state legislature rejected the measure, which would have required students to recite a 56-word passage from the document every day.
Some opponents said reciting the passage would do little to improve students' understanding of history. Others argued the passage – which begins "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" - was insensitive to women and blacks. That phrase was written at a time when slavery was legal in the United States.
Mr. Doolan said the new history standards are only in their first draft and will undergo 20 public hearings before approval. "If people are that upset, then they should let us know at the public hearings," he said. "If we get feedback from people who think we should include the names of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson in the standards, then we'll do it."
Source: Washington Times