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The Nation

Booklet That Upset Mrs. Cheney Is History

The Department of Education destroys 300,000 parent guides to remove references to national standards.

October 08, 2004|Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Jean Merl | Times Staff Writers

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.

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."

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