State History Standards Make the U.S. the Hero of Every Tale

Roundup: Talking About History

Minn. Star Tribune 3-17-04

Greg Gaut
Teacher of European and Russian history at St. Mary's University of Minnesota in Winona.

If the proposed K-12 social studies standards are approved in their present form, someday soon a bright high school senior will face an exam question about the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. The student will consider her dilemma, and then write something like this:

"I know that the current Republican administration which controls how history is taught in Minnesota requires me to answer that the United States won the European war when it stormed ashore at Normandy in June 1944, fought the Battle of the Bulge, and then pushed on to liberate Paris and Germany. This is my official answer, and whoever is grading this need not read further. I add, purely for my own sake, the following.

"Although the D-Day campaign was an important part of the allied victory, the real turning point of the war came earlier. In January 1943, Field Marshal Paulus surrendered more than 100,000 German troops to the Red Army at Stalingrad. Six months later, the Soviet Union finalized its rout of the Nazi army with its victory at Kursk, the biggest battle of the war. Although U.S. armed forces fought courageously, the Nazis sustained about 80 percent of their total casualties fighting the Soviet Union. Honoring the important contribution of American forces to the victory does not require the creation of a self-centered myth that ignores the decisive contribution of another country."

The student will write this answer because the revised standards of what students in grades 9-12 should know present a myopic view in which the United States must appear as the hero of every tale. The standards are divided into U.S. and world history standards, but remarkably, only the U.S. standards mention what happened in World War II. The benchmark states that students should "identify and understand the major battles in the European and Pacific theaters, including the Battles of Britain and Midway and the Normandy invasion." The examples given for this benchmark are the "Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of Paris and Germany, Okinawa and the Philippines." As a benchmark for understanding just the U.S. involvement in the war, this might suffice. The problem is that the world history standards make no mention of how the war was fought (hence no Stalingrad or Kursk), or even who fought. As a result the standards are completely silent about the Soviet role in World War II, including that the Soviet Union was a member of the "Grand Alliance" against Germany with the U.S. and Britain. This omission is breathtaking, given that more than 8 million Soviet soldiers and 17 million civilians died in the war....

comments powered by Disqus