Date: Fri, 3 Feb 1995 16:54:47 PST
Sender: World-L—Forum on non-Eurocentric world history
From: “Ross E. Dunn” <rdunn@SCIENCES.SDSU.EDU>
Subject: National History Standards
To: Multiple recipients of list WORLD-L <>
From: Ross Dunn

John Leo article

By Ross Dunn, 3 February 1995

Some of you will have seen John Leo's new attack on the National History Standards in the Feb. 6 issue of US NEWS & WORLD REPORT. The article is rife with inaccuracies and misrepresentations. I cannot say who feeds him his material, but Lynne Cheney's lieutenant John Fonte is continuously busy extracting bits and pieces from the standards, twisting them out of shape, and reciting the distortions over and over in the national media.

I will limit my comment to merely one of Leo's paragraphs. He writes:

“In the World History Standards . . . slavery is only mentioned twice, and both times as practices of white cultures: in ancient Greece and in the Atlantic slave trade. The long and well-documented slave trade around the world, including Muslim and black slave traders, is not mentioned.”

Let's look at the standards.

First of all they don’t simply “mention slavery twice.” There are numerous references to slavery and slaver trade. In Era 6 (1450-1750) one of the six major standards calls for students to understand “economic, political, and cultural interrelations among peoples of Africa, Europe, and the Americas.” The overall aim here is to encourage students to think about the lands rimming the Atlantic as a single field of historical interaction. A major recommended topic in this standard is the Atlantic slave trade. It's links to understanding of American society are of course obvious.

The topic of the Atlantic trade asks students to understand certain events, transformations, and patterns of change that involved peoples of Europe, Africa, and the Americas. There is not a single line in this standard (or any other standard anywhere in the world history book ) that juxtaposes “white cultures” against black cultures, or red, green, or blue ones.

Leo alleges that there is nothing in the book about slavery except in relation to ancient Greece and to “white culture” in the Atlantic trade. In fact, the standards refer to slavery or slave trade in connection with ancient Mesopotamia and China, the Abbasid empire, the medieval Indian Ocean, and Africa. One standard calls on students to compare “ways in which slavery or other forms of social bondage were practiced in the Islamic lands, Christian Europe, and West Africa.” Another asks students to analyze “the circumstances under which African governments, elites, merchants, or other groups participated in the sale of slaves to Europeans.” Still another calls for assessment of “how the slave trade affected population, economic systems, family life, and relations between men and women in West and Central Africa.”

One suggested activity for high school students asks them to “research evidence that slavery and slave trade became more widespread in both West and East Africa in the 19th century, even as the trans-Atlantic slave trade came to an end.”

The standards also devote an entire sub-standard (a shaded box) to the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas. The recommended topics include:

“Assessing the relative importance of Enlightenment thought, Christian piety, democratic revolutions, slave resistance, and changes in the world economy in bringing about the abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of slaves in the Americas.”

“Describing the organization of movements in Europe and the Americas to end slavery, and explaining how the trans-Atlantic trade was suppressed.”

Sen. Lieberman (D, Conn) made almost the same remarks about slavery as Leo did when the standards issue came up in the Senate. I doubt that Sen. Lieberman is closely associated with Lynne Cheney. It is unfortunate that he accepted at face value whatever information John Fonte or other hostile critic supplied to him.