A proposed set of national teaching goals is supposed to take history beyond the biography of great men. But critics fear America's great men will be abandoned in a rush to political correctness.
"People like Daniel Webster and Thomas Edison don't appear at all," Lynn Cheney, who was chairwoman of the National Endowment of the Humanities during the Reagan and Bush administrations, complained after the history standards were released Tuesday.
Creators of the history standards say conservative critics are misrepresenting their work, which focuses on broad historical themes instead of listing specific people and events to be studied.
The standards were developed with federal money to help schools comply with national education goals signed into law by President Clinton in March. The guidelines are voluntary.
A panel to be appointed by Clinton will give final approval to the standards for academic subjects.
At the heart of the history debate is a 271-page guidebook that lists 31 standard concepts, such as "the causes of the Civil War," that students should learn in grades 5-12. It also gives examples of ways students can show that they have mastered each standard.
Gary B. Nash, co-director of the project, said the examples are meant to illustrate creative ways to teach, as Cheney suggested.
"I think she's confusing a curriculum guidebook with a history textbook," Nash said.
The history standards also call more attention to the history of American Indians, blacks, women and others who traditionally have been given short shrift in textbooks, said Nash, who is director of the National Center for History in the Schools at the University of California, Los Angeles.