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The Real Thanksgiving Story



(Editor: www.thereportcard Nathaniel Morton recorded the account of William Bradford of the journey of the Pilgrims, our courageous founders. Although they are much maligned on campus, and in the mainstream media, they gave true meaning and texture to what became the First Amendment. One cannot read these words and fail to understand what makes us exceptional and the hope of the world.  The Wall Street Journal has printed this chronicle and editorial since 1961, and everyone, particularly young Americans should learn it by heart).


The Desolate Wilderness


Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton, keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford, sometime governor thereof:

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits.

When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.

The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other’s heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.


Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.

If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.


And The Fair Land


Any one whose labors take him into the far reaches of the country, as ours lately have done, is bound to mark how the years have made the land grow fruitful.

This is indeed a big country, a rich country, in a way no array of figures can measure and so in a way past belief of those who have not seen it. Even those who journey through its Northeastern complex, into the Southern lands, across the central plains and to its Western slopes can only glimpse a measure of the bounty of America.

And a traveler cannot but be struck on his journey by the thought that this country, one day, can be even greater. America, though many know it not, is one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped.

So the visitor returns thankful for much of what he has seen, and, in spite of everything, an optimist about what his country might be. Yet the visitor, if he is to make an honest report, must also note the air of unease that hangs everywhere.

For the traveler, as travelers have been always, is as much questioned as questioning. And for all the abundance he sees, he finds the questions put to him ask where men may repair for succor from the troubles that beset them.

His countrymen cannot forget the savage face of war. Too often they have been asked to fight in strange and distant places, for no clear purpose they could see and for no accomplishment they can measure. Their spirits are not quieted by the thought that the good and pleasant bounty that surrounds them can be destroyed in an instant by a single bomb. Yet they find no escape, for their survival and comfort now depend on unpredictable strangers in far-off corners of the globe.

How can they turn from melancholy when at home they see young arrayed against old, black against white, neighbor against neighbor, so that they stand in peril of social discord. Or not despair when they see that the cities and countryside are in need of repair, yet find themselves threatened by scarcities of the resources that sustain their way of life. Or when, in the face of these challenges, they turn for leadership to men in high places—only to find those men as frail as any others.


So sometimes the traveler is asked whence will come their succor. What is to preserve their abundance, or even their civility? How can they pass on to their children a nation as strong and free as the one they inherited from their forefathers? How is their country to endure these cruel storms that beset it from without and from within?

Of course the stranger cannot quiet their spirits. For it is true that everywhere men turn their eyes today much of the world has a truly wild and savage hue. No man, if he be truthful, can say that the specter of war is banished. Nor can he say that when men or communities are put upon their own resources they are sure of solace; nor be sure that men of diverse kinds and diverse views can live peaceably together in a time of troubles.

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere—in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.

And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.

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U of M Students: “Ban Jefferson Statue, He’s Racist”



(Editor: students at the University of Missouri in the latest politically correct outrage  have called on administrators to remove a statue of founding father Thomas Jefferson, suggesting in a petition and during a recent protest that the campus sculpture is offensive, oppressive, and celebrates a “racist rapist.” Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and third president of the United States, is considered one of the most brilliant of American statesman. He was a slaveholder, but considered slavery an evil and was conflicted on how to end it. However, the moral purists that seem to dominate campuses these days, cannot bear to look upon any flaws in American historical leader. Thus today Columbus Day, Christopher Columbus is the target of campus derision for polluting the purity of native American’s lifestyle. Jefferson was an advocate for liberty in an age when slavery was a universal condition in the world. If we continue to purge history of any American who had human flaws, there will be few people to discuss).



The College Fix

Removing statue ‘will help cure the emotional and psychological strain of history.’

Some students at the University of Missouri have called on administrators to remove a statue of founding father Thomas Jefferson, suggesting in a petition and during a recent protest that the campus sculpture is offensive, oppressive, and celebrates a “racist rapist.”

“Thomas Jefferson’s statue sends a clear nonverbal message that his values and beliefs are supported by the University of Missouri. Jefferson’s statue perpetuates a sexist-racist atmosphere that continues to reside on campus,” states the petition. “…Removing Jefferson’s statue alone will not eliminate the racial problems we face in America today, but it will help cure the emotional and psychological strain of history.”

The petition was launched two months ago by student Maxwell Little, who told the Missourian he and his peers were inspired in part by the success of the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from the University of Texas.

To drum up support for their effort, the students last week held a protest of

sorts under the hashtag #postyourstateofmind that targeted the statue, and “throughout the day, students covered the Jefferson statue … with sticky notes displaying messages such as, ‘racist,’ ‘rapist,’ ‘slave owner’ and ‘misogynist,’” the Missourian reports.


The petition lists a parade of grievances against Jefferson, including that he “urged freedom for all and TALKED about the abolition of slavery, but never practiced democracy a day in his life,” that he “believed that both black and white individuals, equally free, could not live under the same government,” and that he “raped 16 year old Sally Hemings, a young innocent house slave.”

As of Sunday night, the petition had 70 signatures, but not all students support the statue’s removal. “Multiple people tried to remove the sticky notes from the statue,” the Missourian noted.

And in a statement to The College Fix, the president of Mizzou’s Young Americans for Liberty chapter, Ian Paris, said he and his group feel the call to remove the statue represents “misplaced anger.”

“To begin, we find it fallacious to require that all historical figures to be judged by contemporary standards,” Paris, a political science major, said in an email to The Fix. “By this we mean that the fact that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves does not discredit him as an advocate for liberty in early America.”

RELATED: Southern author: Banishing Confederate relics ‘a danger to the preservation and study of history’

Paris also noted Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence equated slavery to a “cruel war against human nature.”

“While this may not excuse him from his actions, we feel it is important to fully understand the depth of Jefferson’s character before students demand we rewrite history in a style that is less upsetting to some,” Paris said.

Paris added the statue simply represents an “attempt to remember the history of our nation in its entirety, rather than at the discretion of the most easily offended.”

“Any attempt to change that would be a disservice, not only to the memory of one of the greatest men in the history of our nation, but to the University of Missouri as well,” he said.

The statue has been on campus since 2001, commissioned and paid for by the MU Jefferson Club, the Maneater campus newspaper reports.


“He was a strong believer in democracy, and he had a wonderful mind,” then-Chancellor Richard Wallace said of Jefferson during the sculpture’s unveiling. “It holds up scholarship and freedom, the things that are critically important to our institution.”

The Jefferson Club is a group of elite donors and alumni to the University of Missouri, according to the group’s website, which notes “as the first public university west of the Mississippi River, MU identifies strongly with President Thomas Jefferson, founder of the nation’s first public university. Thus, the Jefferson Club is named for President Jefferson.”



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“Stealth Jihad” Textbook Resurfaces in Brevard, Fl



(Editor: The notorious Islam-biased “Word History” textbook published by Pearson Prentice Hall has resurfaced in Brevard County Schools. Like vampires of legend, “Word History” refuses to die, except that the textbook is real and not a legend. Described in Citizens for National Security’s study “Islam Biased Textbooks in Florida” the textbook contains 3 paragraphs on Judaism, 4 paragraphs in Christianity, and a full 36-page chapter in Islam. The chapter not only praises Islam, but it is chock full of verses from the Koran, but not a sentence from the Bible. Furthermore, while the book references Mohammed as “God’s messenger” it says that “some believed Jesus to be the Messiah.” The section on Islam is pure indoctrination and should not be allowed in any American school. Anyone wishing a copy of Citizens for National Security’s study on Islam Biased Textbooks in Florida, can visit and download it).



By Todd Starnes


The Prentice World History textbook being used in Brevard Public Schools includes a 36-page chapter on Islam but no chapters on Christianity or Judaism.

According to a copy obtained by Fox News, The ninth grade textbook declares that Muhammad is the “Messenger of God” and instructs students that jihad is a duty that Muslims must follow.

“Jihad may be interpreted as a holy war to defend Islam and the Muslim community, much like the Crusades to defend Christianity,” the book states.

The textbook published large passages from the Koran, but failed to include any Scripture from the Bible. And while the book  makes declarations about Muhammad being God’s messenger, it does not make declarations about Jesus being God’s son.

“Some believed he was the messiah,” the textbook noted in an entry about Jesus. The book noted that He was later executed, but failed to mention His resurrection.

Brevard Public Schools defended the textbook and said it provided a balanced view of world religions.

“An analysis of one textbook cannot provide a balanced understanding as to what the students in Brevard Public Schools are learning throughout their academic careers,” spokeswoman Michelle Irwin said in a statement.


She said the Prentice Hall World History textbook incorporated a review of the origin of Christianity and Judaism – subjects covered indepth in sixth grade classrooms.

She also pointed out the book was among those approved by the state of Florida and that parents as well as community members were given the opportunity to review the textbook before it was adopted.

The book has been used in the classroom for the past three years without any complaints – until now.

Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the book’s publisher, told Fox News the textbook is balanced.

“Pearson and its authors adhere to the highest editorial standards when creating course materials, which undergo a rigorous review process,” she said. “A review of the book shows there is balanced attention given to the beliefs of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

William Saxton, the chairman of Citizens For National Security, testified before the Brevard, Fla. School Board, warning them that the book rewrites Islamic history and presents a biased and incorrect version of the Muslim faith.

“They promote Islam at the expense of Christianity and Judaism,” Saxton told Fox News. “It blew my mind to see the kind of propaganda, the pro-Islam information that’s in this book – at the expense of Christianity and Judaism.”

Saxton said he believes the inclusion is deliberate and he placed the blame an organization that was once called Council on Islamic Education. The group works with education officials and publishers to produce chapters on Islam for American textbooks.

But today, the Council on Islamic Education is known as the Institute on Religious and Civic Values. It’s founder, Shabbir Mansuri, is listed as an academic reviewer on the textbook used in Brevard County.

In 2001 the OC Weekly newspaper in California interviewed Mansuri about comments former Second Lady Lynne Cheney made lamenting the amount of time schools were spending teaching cultures that were not American. Mansuri took her comments as a personal attack.

“For the past 11 years, Mansuri has waged what he calls a ‘bloodless’ revolution: promoting an increased emphasis on world cultures and faiths – including Islam – inside American junior high and high school campuses,” the newspaper reported.

Saxton said he is highly suspicious of Mansuri’s organization and questioned why they changed their name.

“These people are dedicated to getting this language into the textbooks,” he said, noting their new name is “benign and does not sound “threatening or Islamic. “But the same people are running it.”

Saxton said they are hearing from concerned parents across the country – and the complaints have generally been the same: public school textbooks that favor Islam over other world religions.

“It’s a form of stealth jihad,” he said. “(Jihad) is not just blowing up buildings. It’s more subtle. I began to understand that one of the ways the bad guys are trying to threaten our way of life is through our children. The Islamists want to get to the hearts and minds of our kids.”

Saxton’s all-volunteer organization launched a nationwide study in 2009 to root out what they believed to be Islamic bias in American school textbooks. He said they found as many as 80 textbooks that overtly promoted Islam.

Last year, the Citizens For National Security was able to get a similar book removed from the classroom in Palm Beach County.

“In short, you are using an Islam-biased, flawed textbook that has neither partially nor fully been corrected,” he told Brevard County school leaders.

A spokesman for IRCV told Fox News they would agree to an interview but never returned repeated calls.

In 2009 Mansuri found himself facing similar accusations of promoting and glorifying Islam – accusations he strongly denied in an Orange County Register interview.

“IRCV is recognized within the education community for our expertise in teaching about world religions,” he told the newspaper. “This expertise stands from our long-standing interest in religious liberty, religious pluralism and the practice of faith within a civic social framework.”

He blamed the criticism on “children of 9-11,” who were miseducated, the newspaper reported.

Saxton said the Prentice Hall textbook is riddled with errors. He especially took issue with their definition of jihad. The book called it a personal duty for Muslims and a way to defend their faith.

“Violent Islamic groups have used jihad for centuries,” he said. “The 9-11 attacks were an example of jihad as terrorism, not self-defense. Declarations of jihad have been made for purposes of violence against Christians, Jews, Americans, British and fellow Muslims hundreds of times.”

The textbook also alleges that “Muslims consider Jews and Christians to be ‘People of the Book.’”

Saxton said in practice, Jews and Christians have been subjected historically to violence and murder by Muslims.

“Christians and Jews are permitted very few of the rights and freedoms that the Muslim majority is allowed,” he said.

The textbook said under Islamic law women are spiritually equal, although they may have different roles and rights.

“This content is confusing at best and intellectually dishonest at worst,” he said. In Egypt and other Arab countries, women may not be employed in the private sector because they belong in the home. Women are stoned to death under Sharia law in Iran for adultery.”

School Board member Amy Kneessy told Fox News she had a chance to read the textbook and she was especially troubled by the section about how Muslims treat women.

“I was really disheartened,” she said. “To see such a blatant misportrayal of how women are treated in Muslim countries, I found disconcerting.”

Kneessy said there seems to be a double-standard and found evidence of bias in a number of passages – especially when it came to religious wars.

“When wars were involving Jewish people or Christians, some very hard adjectives were used – like ‘massacre,’” she said. “Whereas when it was a Muslim group, it was ‘occupy’ or a very innocuous term.”

She said the school has an obligation to be fair and balanced when teaching history.

“War is never clean and tidy,” she said. “Wars are bloody. People die and bad things happen. The facts need to be reported fairly from all perspectives.”

Kneessy said she plans on asking the entire school board to reevaluate the textbook.

“I am concerned it is more ammunition that continues to water down what this country was founded on,” she said. “This country was founded with Christian values. God was very much a part of our government. When you take the religious context out of it, then you take away the very heart of what this country was founded

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New Report: Problems Remain in College Board US History Framework



(Editor: The College Board’s first Advanced Placement US History framework brought well deserved brickbats from scholars and citizens who saw the entire portrayal of the history of the US as an anti-American screed. The outcry was so great, that The College Board was forced to revise it. Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars reviewed the new version. He says that improvements are real, but the new version still contains serious errors of omission and accuracy. The new APUSH continues to have a watered-down, tepid explanation of American Exceptionalism and the new version continues to emphasize the value of so-called “social justice issues.” APUSH is not trivial, all history book will be written to be in conformity with APUSH, so perhaps an alternative is needed. You know, competition).



By Peter Wood National Association of Scholars


At its July 2012 national conference, the College Board announced with fanfare the roll out a new Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) “course and exam revisions.”  A 52-page PowerPoint directed to AP teachers extolled the achievement and laid out the schedule.  The “curriculum framework” would be available in October 2012; “workshop consultant training” would begin in spring 2013; and the course would be taught for the first time in fall 2014.

The heralding of a new APUSH was not subtle yet outside the circle of Advanced Placement history teachers, it attracted little notice.  This changed in March 2014 when a retired APUSH teacher, along with a lawyer affiliated with a think tank, the American Principles Project, posted a short article, “New Advanced Placement Framework Distorts America’s History.”  The rhetoric was heated:  “A dramatic, unilateral change is taking place in the content of the College Board’s Advanced Placement U.S. history course.”  And the details were sketchy:

The new Framework inculcates a consistently negative view of the nation’s past. For example, the units on colonial America stress the development of a “rigid racial hierarchy” and a “strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority.” The Framework ignores the United States’ founding principles and their influence in inspiring the spread of democracy and galvanizing the movement to abolish slavery.

I read the article skeptically, but as the head of an organization devoted to academic standards, I felt obliged to weigh the allegations against the actual standards.

The old (pre-2014) standards fit nicely onto five pages and left most of the work of devising a course to the AP teacher.  The 2014 “Course and Exam Description,” by contrast, ran 134 pages, including the detailed explanations of how the new examination would work.  I dug in and found to my surprise that the AP teacher and the lawyer had a point.  But it struck me that the situation was more complicated than their warning flare had suggested.


For one thing the 2014 revisions (which for shorthand I will call APUSH 1.0 to distinguish them from the 2015 revisions, APUSH 2.0) conveyed more than “a consistently negative view of the nation’s past.”  That negative view was apparent, but so were two other things.  First, APUSH 1.0 set out an approach to teaching American history that radically downplayed historical content in favor of what its authors called “historical thinking skills.” Second, APUSH 1.0 set out a strong narrative of U.S. history as a story of oppressors and exploiters dominating the oppressed and the exploited.  “Consistently negative” yes; but also tightly organized around teaching a particular interpretation of American history.

My discipline is social anthropology, not history, and while there are parts of APUSH 1.0, such as its treatment of Native Americans, that I could evaluate from an informed scholarly perspective, there were many other parts that I thought should be examined carefully by subject experts.  So I did two things.  I wrote and published a long essay, “The New AP History: A Preliminary Report.”  And I wrote to a fair number of professors of American history asking them to look at APUSH 1.0 for themselves and let me know what they thought.

Here is a condensed account of what happened next.  My “Preliminary Report” and my emails to professors helped to touch off a firestorm of criticism of APUSH 1.0.  The activists, heartened by the show of interest, took their criticisms to a broader audience, which included the Republican National Committee, some local school boards, the Texas State Board of Education, and legislators in several other states.  Stanley Kurtz at the Ethics and Public Policy Center began to publish on National Review Online a series of well-researched articles about the background to the College Board’s decision to release APUSH 1.0.  All of this took place in the late summer and early fall of 2014.  Meanwhile, I began to publish on the NAS website critiques of specific parts of APUSH 1.0 written by the historians I had contacted.

The College Board responded to this firestorm by deriding the critics people who favored jingoistic, flag-waving pseudo-history.  It was a low blow.  We critics were taking history seriously and expected that the College Board, entrusted with maintaining the standards for a high school course taken by nearly 500,000 students each year, would too. The critics had examined the new standards patiently and systematically.  And none of us had called for replacing them with simplistic pieties about the American past. The summit of our criticisms was a public letter to the College Board signed by 122 historians and posted to the National Association of Scholars website, June 2.


The College Board found various academic historians to carry its water.  The critics were attacked from such heights as the op-ed pages of The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and such hedgerows as the History News Network.  But after months of this, the College Board abruptly shifted tactics.  It announced that the critics had made some good points and that the College Board would pause, gather comment, and revise APUSH 1.0.  The result—APUSH 2.0—was released July 30, 2015.  It incorporates numerous changes, some of them substantial.

The questions of the hour are:  How substantial?  Should the critics stand down?  What next?

The answers are:  Less substantial than they first appear.  The critics should persist.  And what lies ahead are two roads.  One is the continuing effort to persuade the College Board to improve APUSH.  The other is the effort to develop a viable alternative to APUSH outside the purview of the College Board.

Why should the broader public care about APUSH 1.0 or 2.0?

The half million students who take it include many of our best, brightest, and most ambitious young people.  It is supposed to be a “college level” course and typically substitutes for one.  The ranks of the students who take it include many of the nation’s future leaders.  We should want something better for them than a glib and superficial view of the nation’s past seen through the lens of contemporary identity politics and resentments.  APUSH 2.0 delicately erases the most explicit expressions of this bias in APUSH 1.0.  But APUSH 2.0 is still written from within APUSH 1.0’s Weltanschauung.

What happens in APUSH 2.0 doesn’t stay in APUSH 2.0.  The course itself directly influences how other high school history courses are taught.  The APUSH-aligned textbooks are often used in other courses too.  The College Board’s ambitious reconceptualization of AP history is part of a larger effort.  Already it has issued AP European History standards that are cut from the same cloth as APUSH 1.0, and an AP Government course is soon to come.

The United States is negligently backing into national history standards by way of APUSH.  The College Board and its supporters are perfectly aware of what they are doing.  The creator of the Common Core K-12 State Standards, David Coleman, became the president of the College Board in 2012, promising to align the SATs and the AP courses with Common Core.  Common Core gave us a national curriculum of sorts in mathematics and English.  APUSH extends that project to American history.

Finally, APUSH is less and less a course reserved for the talented few.  The College Board and others have been pushing for laxer enrollment standards. Why should the broader public care? APUSH will soon be the only brand of history on the store shelf.


What’s so bad about APUSH 2.0?  Didn’t the College Board make improvements after listening to its critics?

The improvements are real.  APUSH 2.0 includes important individuals (e.g. James Madison) omitted from APUSH 1.0.  It significantly reduces the overexpression of progressive bias (e.g. World War II is no longer presented through the lens of “the internment of Japanese Americans, challenges to civil liberties, debates over race and segregation, and the decision to drop the atomic bomb,” and  President Reagan is no longer characterized as a purveyor of “bellicose rhetoric.”)  And greater attention is given to American inventiveness.

But the problems that remain are deep and systematic.

For example, the term “American exceptionalism,” absent from APUSH 1.0, appears once in APUSH 2.0—though not in a manner that suggests the documents authors understand it very well.  “American exceptionalism” has generally referred to the idea that America was and is a new kind of nation, one founded on the philosophical principles named in the Declaration of Independence but harkening back to Governor Winthrop’s 1630 sermon calling on the colonists of Massachusetts Bay to create a community that would be “a city on a hill” for all mankind.  The “American exceptionalism” of APUSH 2.0 is undefined and undescribed, though in context it seems to mean something like ‘aggressive nationalism.’

The new treatment of “American exceptionalism” thus comes across as, at best, superficial.  It may not be intended to be a brush-off of a key idea.  Having talked with College Board officials, I’m more inclined to see it as genuine incomprehension.  The College Board writers are so attuned to the progressive worldview that they literally cannot make sense of key ideas that are repudiated by that worldview.

In a similar vein, APUSH 2.0 is deaf and blind to the roles that organized religion has played in key episodes of American life, including the Founding.  APUSH 2.0 cannot comprehend the importance of American military history or how the nation’s wars have reshaped the culture.  APUSH 2.0 tends to reduce the history of ideas and ideals to sidelights on power politics and group interests.  I give the College Board credit for reducing the overt emphasis in APUSH 1.0 on identity group politics and for reintroducing in APUSH 2.0 the theme of “national identity,” but the sub-group emphasis is merely less conspicuous.  The story that APUSH 2.0 tells is still essentially white Europeans taking unfair advantage of innocent Native Americans, Africans, and others.


As an anthropologist looking at APUSH 2.0 I’m struck by the treatment of “Native Americans,” who are presented first as “adapted” to their physical environments and then primarily as victims of European “subjugation.”  Various tribes of Native Americans were, of course, themselves masters of subjugation and genocidal wars against one another long before Europeans set foot in the New World.  There is a large blind spot in APUSH 2.0 when it comes to the social dynamics of the identity groups it favors.

Sometimes APUSH 2.0 goes astray in something as small as the choice of an adjective.  The Soviet Union during the Cold War is described as “authoritarian,” as opposed to totalitarian.  Few high school students are likely to notice the difference, but what a difference it makes! Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn apparently wrote in vain.

But more importantly APUSH 2.0 goes astray in its twin emphases on social history and material history.  The principles, concepts, and ideas that helped to create a robust national culture and that have driven American politics from the outset are not banished as they were in APUSH 1.0 but they hang like fuzzy dice from the rearview mirror of APUSH 2.0—ornaments with no functional significance.   APUSH 2.0 presents a disclaimer that it “includes a minimal number of individual names” and leaves it to the teachers to pick their own examples, (p. 22).  One AP teacher has responded by saying the standards thus “neglect the personal choices of individual men” in favor of what she calls the College Board’s “bias in favor of impersonal forces.”

Can APUSH be fixed?  Or should critics look elsewhere? 

APUSH 2.0 could, of course, give rise to APUSH 3.0.  I was on an NPR radio program recently with New York University history professor Maria Montoya who served on the College Board committee that wrote APUSH 2.0.  When the host asked whether further revisions were likely, Professor Montoya said no.  It takes a long time for textbooks and teachers to catch up with one set of changes and introducing new ones in quick succession is a bad idea.

On the other hand, when I’ve talked with David Coleman, he has seemed eager to listen to and take note of specific criticisms of APUSH 2.0. So I am not abandoning the idea that the College Board can be nudged to make further improvements.  But it isn’t clear whether that door is open.

And fixing APUSH requires more than fixing just APUSH.  The standards are densely entangled with the tests, the textbooks aligned to the standards, teacher training, and instructional materials that schools have invested in.  Changing the standards is relatively easy; changing everything else, not so easy.  A new APUSH has been in the works since 2006.  The College Board has had a long time to integrate all the parts.


The complexity of creating an alternative to APUSH, however, has not deterred critics who have come to believe that the underlying problem is that the College Board is, in effect, a monopoly.  Only when critics began to moot the idea of establishing a viable alternative to APUSH did the College Board switch from treating its critics with derision to taking them seriously.  It was a lesson for us critics:  competition works.


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Fitzhugh: Now, All Focus is on Teacher Performance, But What About Student Achievement?

Will Fitzhugh, Publisher of The Concord Review

Will Fitzhugh, Publisher of The Concord Review

(Editor: My friend Will Fitzhugh publishes The Concord Review that many say contains the finest high school student historical research papers in the world. The papers are at least 6-10,000 words and are thoroughly researched and footnoted. These papers represent what many consider to be the apogee of student achievement. At one time, students were expected to write serious and thorough papers. Today, few schools require anything longer than 300 words. Mr. Fitzhugh says that for the last 28 years all the focus is on What Teachers Do.


Not a single Teacher Workshop seems to look at all at serious student academic work. Some might argue that multiple choice tests alone are the determinant of student achievement. Mr. Fitzhugh demurs saying scores on a test show us nothing about the sort of knowledge they should be getting from reading actual history books and writing actual term papers. Students are expected to be invisible passive recipients, apart from a little class discussion perhaps.  At least in history, ask student to read a history book or write a serious history term paper! You must be joking! They should just sit there, take it, and ace the test.

That would be like expecting soldiers to learn how to fire a rifle, for goodness’ sake! Think about that-what if soldiers sat and listened to others talk about rifles, watched movies featuring rifles,  watched the PowerPoints, discussed rifles, but NOT touch or fire them! Would they be battle ready? Not likely).




By Will Fitzhugh The Concord Review


It is settled wisdom among Funderpundits and those to whom they give their grants that the most important variable in student academic achievement is teacher quality, but I have regularly pointed out that the most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work.

Now, however, a small number of other dissenting voices have begun to speak. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, in Academically Adrift have suggested that (p. 131) “Studying is crucial for strong academic performance…” and “Scholarship on teaching and learning has burgeoned over the past several decades and has emphasized the importance of shifting attention from faculty teaching to student learning…”

This may seem unacceptably heterodox to those in government and the private sector who have committed billions of dollars to focusing on the selection, training, supervision, and control of K-12 teachers, while giving no thought to whether K-12 students are actually doing the academic work which they are assigned.

In 2004, Paul A. Zoch, a teacher from Texas, wrote in Doomed to Fail:

“Let there be no doubt about it: the United States looks to its teachers and their efforts, but not to its students and their efforts, for success in education.”

More recently, and less on the fringe of this new concern, Diane Ravitch wrote in “Death and Life of the Great American School System“:

“One problem with test-based accountability, as currently defined and used, is that it removes all responsibility from students and their families for the students’ academic performance. NCLB neglected to acknowledge that students share in the responsibility for their academic performance and that they are not merely passive recipients of their teachers’ influence.”

There are necessarily problems in turning attention toward the work of students in judging the effectiveness of schools. First, all the present attention is on teachers, and it is not easy to turn that around. Second, teachers are employees and can be fired, while students can not. It could not be comfortable for the Funderpundits and their beneficiaries to realize that they may have been overlooking the most important variable in student academic achievement all this time.


In February, when the Associated Press reported that Natalie Monroe, a high school English teacher in Pennsylvania, had called her students, on a blog, “disengaged, lazy whiners,” and “noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS,” the response of the school system was not to look more closely at the academic efforts of the students, but to suspend the teacher. As one of her students explained, “As far as motivated high school students, she’s completely correct. High school kids don’t want to do anything…(but) It’s a teacher’s job…to give students the motivation to learn.” (sic)

It would seem that no matter who points out that “You can lead a student to learning, but you can’t make him drink,” our systems of schools and Funderpundits stick with their wisdom that teachers alone are responsible for student academic achievement.

While that is wrong, it is also stupid. Alfred North Whitehead (or someone else) once wrote:

“For an education, a man’s books and teachers are but a help, the real work is his.”

As in the old story about the drunk searching under the lamppost for his keys, those who control funds for education believe that as long as all their money goes to paying attention to what teachers are doing, who they are, how they are trained, and so on, they can’t see the point of looking in the darkness at those who have the complete and ultimate control over how much academic achievement there will be—namely the students.

Apart from scores on math and reading tests after all, student academic work is ignored by all those interested in paying to change the schools. What students do in literature, Latin, chemistry, math, and Asian history classes is of no interest to them. Liberal education is not only on the back burner for those focused on basic skills and job readiness as they define them, but that burner is also turned off at present.

This situation will persist as long as those funding programs and projects for reform in education pay no attention to the actual academic work of our students. And students, who see little or no pressure to be other than “disengaged lazy whiners” will continue to pay the price for their lack of education, both in college and at work, and we will continue to draw behind in comparison with those countries who realize that student academic achievement has always been, and will always be, mainly dependent on diligent student academic work.


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Good Guys Win: College Board’s US History takes a Right Turn



(Editor: These columns were the first to carry Larry Krieger’s scathing indictment of the College Board’s Advanced Placement US History Framework or APUSH. The entire 100+ page left wing screed attacked the United States as the problem in the world. America was racist, sexist and an imperialist power build on repression. The original APUSH was so biased against America, that The Republican National Committee attacked it for “radical revisionism.” The outcry finally prompted the College Board to rewrite the entire APUSH framework. The message here is that “the millstones of justice turn exceedingly slow, but they grind exceedingly fine).”



By Frederick M. Hess & Max Eden National Review


In the battles over schooling and American history, it sometimes seems that the forces of agenda-driven identity politics keep racking up wins. That’s what makes this morning’s release of the newly revised Advancement Placement U.S. History framework a happy turn. The College Board’s new framework is not just better than the atrocious version released last year—it’s good in its own right. The College Board’s 2014 framework for teaching Advanced Placement U.S. History, the gold standard for high-school history, provoked a well-deserved firestorm. The first-ever attempt to provide a comprehensive guide for teaching the course to a half-million students each year yielded an unqualified mess. Larry Krieger, a retired high-school history teacher, was the first to flag the single-minded focus on American wrongdoing, racial division, and left-wing heroics. Stanley Kurtz penned an illuminating series of posts here at NRO on the framework’s politicization of history.


The Republican National Committee, in turn, passed a resolution deeming the standards “radically revisionist” and calling on Congress to insist on their further review. The College Board initially issued a prickly statement dismissing the criticism. Bizarrely, it accused critics of “a blatant disregard for the facts” and of putting personal agendas “above the best interest of teachers, students, and their families.” It all felt depressingly familiar. But the College Board then opted to change course. It reached out to critics, solicited feedback from the public, promised that the framework would be reworked for 2015—and asked to be judged on the result. This morning, they unveiled the new framework. Surprisingly, it constitutes a sea change. It’s not just better—it’s flat-out good. It doesn’t only address the most egregious examples of bias and politicization; rather, nearly every line appears to have been rewritten in a more measured, historically-responsible manner. Some of the most symbolically significant changes may be in the treatment of World War II and the presidency of Ronald Reagan.


The 2014 framework highlighted three things that students needed to know about the Second World War. In order, they were: Wartime mobilization provided economic opportunities for women and minorities; American values were compromised by the atomic bomb and the internment of Japanese Americans; and the Allies won owing to our combined industrial strength. Notice anything missing? In the 2015 version, the first bullet now reads: “Americans viewed the war as a fight for the survival of freedom and democracy against fascist and militarist ideologies. This perspective was later reinforced by revelations about Japanese wartime atrocities, Nazi concentration camps, and the Holocaust.” The framework still notes the internment of Japanese Americans and the moral complexities of dropping the atomic bomb, but these are now situated in a broader, more textured tale. Teachers have plenty of room to emphasize moral ambiguities and contemporary critiques, as they well should—but it’s no longer implied that those are the whole story. Of Reagan’s role in ending the Cold War, the 2014 framework read (in its laughable entirety): “President Ronald Reagan, who initially rejected détente with increased defense spending, military action, and bellicose rhetoric, later developed a friendly relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.” The framework managed to depict Reagan as simultaneously a bully and a naif. That’s the view of left-wing history departments, of course, but it is cartoon history. The 2015 framework now reads, “Reagan asserted U.S. opposition to communism through speeches, diplomatic efforts, limited military interventions, and a buildup of nuclear and conventional weapons,” and notes that these actions “were important in ending the Cold War.”


Whereas the 2014 framework gave hagiographic accounts of FDR’s and LBJ’s domestic initiatives, the 2015 version gives a much more tempered account. The 2014 framework explained, “The liberalism of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal drew on earlier progressive ideas and represented a multifaceted approach to both the causes and effects of the Great Depression.” The 2015 framework now reads, “Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal attempted to end the Great Depression by using government power to provide relief to the poor, stimulate recovery, and reform the American economy.” This is both less starry-eyed and more accurate. Faced with a barrage of well-deserved criticism, the College Board has responded with an honest, fair-minded framework for teaching the grand sweep of American history.


Similarly, the 2014 framework asserted that, under President Lyndon Johnson, “Liberal ideals were realized in Supreme Court decisions that expanded democracy and individual freedoms, Great Society social programs and policies, and the power of the federal government, yet these unintentionally helped energize a new conservative movement.” The 2015 version is far more tempered in subtle but significant ways. It reads, “Liberal ideas found expression in Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which attempted to use federal legislation and programs to end racial discrimination, eliminate poverty, and address other social issues.” The exuberant celebration of FDR and LBJ has given way to a more concrete focus on what they “attempted” to do. That’s more like it. Reagan, FDR, and LBJ should all get their due for their efforts—and fair-minded discussion of their successes, missteps, and shortcomings. 


Changes like these are a reassuring sign. But dwelling only on these headline items actually understates the thoroughness of the line-by-line revisions. In 2014, the first of seven organizing themes for American History was “Identity”—with an accompanying emphasis on race and gender grievances throughout (even when the discussion seemed blatantly anachronistic). 


In the new version, “Identity” has become “American and National Identity,” and the emphasis throughout is on our shared history—with racial divides and gender politics presented as one part of that larger story. For instance, the framework no longer describes Manifest Destiny as simply “built on a belief in white racial superiority” but rather motivated by a desire for “economic opportunities and religious refuge” and a belief in “the superiority of American institutions.” Those institutions—self-government, civil society, and democratic capitalism—are all now given the respect and attention they deserve. The framework now addresses economic growth and American entrepreneurialism where before the only economics to speak of consisted of allusions to inequality and exploitation.


Astonishingly, discussion of religion and its import was largely absent in 2014. That is no longer the case. Whereas in the 2014 framework one could be forgiven for thinking that the Declaration of Independence was consequential only insofar as it inspired rebellion in Haiti, the new framework makes clear that the Declaration “resonated throughout American history, shaping Americans’ understanding of the ideals on which the nation was based.” The 2015 version encourages teachers to spend up to a month offering “an in-depth focus on the ideas of freedom and democracy as expressed in the founding documents” or examining “the founding documents and their resonance in the thoughts and actions of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.” Faced with a barrage of well-deserved criticism, the College Board went back to the drawing board. It has returned with a framework that offers an honest, fair-minded framework for teaching the grand sweep of American history. There is no effort to paper over the darker chapters of America’s past or its continuing struggle to live up to our founding ideals (nor should there be!)—but these are now presented alongside our nation’s ideals and staggering accomplishments. The result is certainly not perfect. There are elements we would choose to add and points that could be articulated more fully or fairly. But those are quibbles. Last year’s framework reflected the agenda-driven view of American history so prominent in higher education. This year’s framework gets the balance right between the pluribus and the unum, and does justice to our nation’s remarkable history.


— Frederick M. Hess is director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Max Eden is program manager for education-policy studies at AEI.


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“Protect Children: Stop Bill Giving More Federal Power Over Education”



(Editor: Bill S.1177 “No Child Left Behind” rewrite gives The US Department of Education ever greater power over your child’s curriculum, personal data, and ability to expand Common Core. This 800 page monster bill will also open the door for the UN to increase it’s control over American educational policy. Don’t believe it? Well, in matters of the Iranian arms deal, President Obama is giving the UN priority over Congress. So it’s not a leap to see the regime’s interest in expanding global control over schools is it)?



By Christel Lane Swasey, American Principles Project


Protecting our children from increasing oppressions and loss of freedoms will require not allowing federal S.1177 to pass.

The name of S.1177, which now sits in the Senate on Capitol Hill,  is also: “The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015,” “No Child Left Behind – rewritten,” “Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” and is virtually the same as House Bill HR5, “The Student Success Act” which passed the House yesterday.

In my own mind I have given all its versions this name: Nasty Orwellian Progressive Education (NOPE) –a convenient, more honest, and recyclable title.  We will surely have to recycle S.1177 and its clones because it will not die. Although it died in HR5 form in Congress earlier this year, thanks to We the People being alert and active,  now it has risen, passed the House as HR5– and will rise again until that relentless, growing clique (Duncan/Gates/Tucker/Pearson NGA/NCSL/CCSSO/REL/ et al) gets its way–  until there is no longer any such thing as student privacy or local autonomy in any school.  If you think I’m exaggerating, please study the words and actions of each of those ed reform moguls.

I decided to skim the near-800 page bill using American Principles Project’s 21 items as my guide.  The hide and seek that readers must wield with the real purposes and powers of this bill is ridiculous.  Clearly, the authors of S.1177 aim to obscure its true purposes, which I now see only serve the Obama-UN agenda for education.

The media’s calling S.1177 “a bipartisan compromise” but that’s far from true.  It’s all part of the Common Core bipartisan profiteering scheme that aligns federal tests and standards, but elbows out parents and voters.  Many in Congress are fooled, but don’t you be fooled by the word “bipartisan” –nor by the bill’s misleading talking points.

The power struggle is no longer between the Republicans and the Democrats.  Bipartisan means almost nothing.  The fight is between voting families– We the People, whether Democratic, Republican or other– versus the clique of profiteering businessmen and politicians.  Those who profit in money or with the power that increased data mining provides, each profit from the standardization and nationalization of testing, data standards, education standards, accountability measures, and aligned curriculum.

When I tried to call again and again to alert the U.S.  senators, it was impossible to get through.   So the effort of grassroots is kicking where it counts. Please, call senators again, every day.  Call Sen. LaMar Alexander and Patty Murray after your own senators and board members.  Bonus:  you can very, very quickly tweet to all Senators repeatedly by clicking here.  If you do not yet have a free Twitter account, please do it now by clicking here.  It is easy.

Killing this bill ought to be easy because nobody likes No Child Left Behind, that ugly federal law, and this is its big brother.  Ask any teacher, any principal, any politician in any party.  NCLB blessed no child and was a bureaucratic quagmire.  Why did its reauthorization successfully pass the Senate committee– unanimously— in April after being stopped in its tracks in March?  And why is S.1177 onstage again?  The answer is simple: because the states have become addicted to federal money and many are selling souls to get it.

Passing S.1177 based on money-fear is pure stupidity.  More school funding comes from local sources, by FAR, than from federal funds, and ugly strings are attached to the federal money– strings that take away freedom, privacy rights, a say over our own schools.  If we’d be courageous and fiscally responsible, and fire most of the outrageous salary-consumers at state offices of education and the entire federal Dept of Ed, we’d have abundant cash for legitimate school needs. Plenty.  We should be retaining local dollars, rather than sending them to D.C. to be redistributed back to some of us, conditionally.  It’s common sense.

So here is my little list:


  1.   The bill aims to kill parental rights in the parental opt-out movement.

Taking away a parent’s authority over his or her own child is a crime that the Fed Ed is willing to try to get away with.  This bill says that states must not only give federally aligned common core tests (they use the code term “college and career ready” which is Common Core) but must collect data from 95 percent of the students.  That aims to kill our huge, growing parents’ opt out movement.  The bill says, “Measures the annual progress of not less than 95 percent of all students, and students in each of the categories of students”. (1111)


  1.  The bill’s master-servant relationship between Fed Ed and State Ed is unconstitutional.

I don’t like the master-servant relationship between the Fed Ed agencies and the State agencies.  It’s clearly, clearly unconstitutional.  States are supposed to be in charge of their own educational systems.  But in this bill, read: “The state shall submit,”  and “The Secretary [Fed Ed] shall have power to disapprove a state plan” (Sec. 1111)   “If a State makes significant changes to its plan at any time…  such information shall be submitted to the Secretary”.  That just gives the Fed Ed Secretary power to disapprove a state’s decision to drop Common Core.  (Sec. 1111)

Cementing Common Core is not what the authors of S.1177 said were the goals of the bill, yet there it is.  Putting parents last, and making states do the dirty work for the false authorities at the Department of Education, is a deceptive way of getting people to think that there’s less federal involvement, a misleading attempt to get conservative people to pass this bill.


  1.  The bill will suppress student expression of religious and political values.

I don’t like the bill’s repeated use of the concept and term  “school climate” –for example, in conditional “formula grants”.  These give the federal government power to model citizenship, to influence what is a federally appropriate world-view, and to pressure schools to suppress student expression of religious values, using each state as enforcer.  (Sec. 4103-4104).  The bill says that money will be conditionally given and that data gathered by the school will determine whether a student holds appropriate beliefs in the “school climate”.  This will allow absolute federal indoctrination in local schools. If family values don’t match Fed Ed values, there will be federally-directed school-based re-education.

Here’s the very wordy sentence that unsuccessfully aims to hides its true aim, asking for collection of “school-level data on indicators or measures of school quality, climate and safety, and discipline, including those described in section 1111(d)(1)(C)(v); and risk factors in the community, school, family, or peer-individual domains that are known, through prospective, longitudinal research efforts, to be predictive of drug use, violent behavior, harassment, disciplinary issues, and having an effect on the physical and mental health and well-being of youth in the school and community.”

That pressures schools to conform to federal definitions of mental health, and forces schools to collect longitudinal data to build and analyze children’s psychological profiles.   Schools wanting federal money must intervene if a student’s “mental health” or potential access to “violence” needs “mentoring”. (“Violence” by whose definition? Owning a hunting rifle –or even not being opposed to others owning them– is a data point for violence prediction in progressive surveys I’ve read) Does a child get federally approved “mentoring” and “referral” if he/she reports that his family owns and will always own guns, or if he/she reports that we teach that homosexuality is a perversion of God’s plan of happiness?

The bill says:  “may include, among other programs and activities— drug and violence prevention activities and programs, including professional development and training for school and specialized instructional support personnel and interested community members in prevention, education, early identification, and intervention mentoring, and, where appropriate, rehabilitation referral, as related to drug and violence prevention… extended learning opportunities, including before and after school programs and activities, programs during summer recess periods, and expanded learning time…


  1.  The bill sees government, not families, at the center of the universe– for younger and younger people, for more and more of the time.

I don’t like the way federal schools are creeping into the community life via this bill.  It allots money to fulfill Sec. Duncan’s “21st –century community learning centers” (Sec. 4201)  I don’t like that this bill consumes more family time, giving so much time to government schools.   The “community creep” of Fed Ed schools expands in multiple ways if S.1177 passes.  The Fed Ed Secretary will pay “programs that support extended learning opportunities, including before and after school programs and activities, programs during summer recess periods, and expanded learning time; in accordance with subsections (c) and (d), school-based mental health services, including early identification of mental-health symptoms” — which means more government surveillance of belief and behavior, via more time spent with Fed Ed, and less time spent with Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa.

I noticed that “and community” is attached after the word “school” repeatedly.  School and community.  School and community.  School and Community.  Why?  What business does the school have, expanding its creep into the community?  Yet that’s exactly what Secretary Duncan has been calling for, for years.  .)


  1.  The bill promotes federal definitions of mental health and promotes collection of mental health data.

I don’t like the bill’s assumption that fed ed defines mental health correctly, and for everyone.  I don’t like that it promotes even more data mining than we already have inflicted upon our children.

The bill’s long, long, long, long sentences hide a lot, probably on purpose.  So I’ve cut phrases to highlight what I see under the wordiness. Let me know what you think.  Am I reading this wrong?


  1.  Toddler Snatching.

I don’t like that the bill puts it hands on preschoolers.  It bullies preschools, too, by mandating federal preschool standards to be enforced by states, as it encourages states to take over toddler time from moms and dads.  I don’t like the time-away-from-family aim nor the data mining aim (without consent of parents, of course). Preschool babies are to be psychologically profiled by the state.  The bill does not state this plainly. You have to connect the dots:  the word “preschool” shows up 43 times in the bill.  Statewide preschool standards align with federal standards, creating nationalization of measurement of citizen babies; federal standards are heavily socio-emotional; it all results in the compilation of psychological data on very young children.  We already had the Dept. of Ed and its partners co-creating Common Educational Data Standards (CEDS) the better to align everyone with, without voter input, and these folks wave banners with their motto (fourth principle) : “Continued Commitment to Disaggregation  of students’ personal data.   Your specific, individual child is wanted in their clutches.  That’s what disaggregation means:  not in a clump; individual.

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Can Your High School Student Write Like This?

Will Fitzhugh, Publisher The Concord Review

Will Fitzhugh, Publisher The Concord Review

(Editor:  Callie Phui-Yen Hoon is an ethnic Chinese native of Singapore and English is her second language. She wrote this paper published in the Concord Review on the Chernobyl disaster as a sophomore at Deerfield Academy. This fall Callie will attend Stanford University. Rigorous writing such as this paper on Chernobyl is rarely taught anymore at the high school level, and yet papers like this are often a critical factor in admissions to top universities. Rigorous historical writing has many benefits. It teaches the writer about the topic, it teaches English and communication skills, it teaches research-note all of the footnotes and the myriad books cited, and in a time when modern educators say they value critical thinking, it teaches critical thinking. If your student cannot now write like this, do not despair, he or she can learn. In order to write well, the student must just start writing, and then polishing. And once they learn, they will be the better for it).

Copyright 2013, The Concord Review, Inc., all rights reserved 227 THE CONCORD REVIEW


Callie Phui-Yen Hoon

A silent killer awaited Talgat Suyunbai and 44 of his So- viet Army comrades in Chernobyl, Ukraine. It was January 1987; nine months after a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered a meltdown and exploded into flames on April 26, 1986. The catastrophe began with a risky experiment during which plant management tested whether the 10-year-old reactor could run in case of a blackout, despite the failure of similar experiments in other Soviet nuclear plants in 1982 and 1984. Such a flawed experimental procedure, coupled with operator error and defec- tive plant design, led to one of the largest nuclear disasters in human history. This Chernobyl reactor released 100 megaCuries of radiation, 50 times that of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.1 Other long-lasting, widespread effects followed, making Chernobyl the only Level 7 calamity on the International Nuclear Event Scale until the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown in Japan.2 Suyunbai and the troops who rode out to the plant were “biorobots,” or liquidators, forced or misled into becoming the disaster cleanup crew. Suyunbai, for example, only first learned

228 Callie Phui-Yen Hoon

of his life-threatening duties on the ride to Chernobyl, where he would work for two or more hours daily clad in an unprotected military uniform and completely vulnerable to lethal radiation. The consequences were not immediate—radiation can be neither seen nor felt—but the long-term effects, such as cancer and birth defects, were devastating.3 As Igor Stolbikov, another disillusioned liquidator, later reflected, “It [was] as if the state want[ed] us to die sooner.”4 Little did he know he had just predicted not only the massive number of state-caused deaths but also the death of the state itself.

Chernobyl was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Repub- lics (USSR), or Soviet Union, a Communist state from 1922 to 1991. After the 1917 Russian Revolution that deposed Tsar Nicholas II, the Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Transcaucasian Republics merged under the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Over its 70-year history, the USSR was characterized by callousness towards its citizens, suppression of criticism, economic centralization, and excessive military buildup. The Cold War (1945–1990) with the United States exacerbated these traits through military pacts, the Space Race, and near-nuclear war during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. While strict adherents to Communist doctrine long ruled the Soviet Union, a more reform-receptive Mikhail Gorbachev took the helm in 1985 and proposed changes, such as glasnost (increased openness), perestroika (decreased economic centraliza- tion), and demilitarization intended to strengthen the state. But by December 1991 the Soviet Union had dissolved, surprising both governments and scholars around the world.5

Scholars have long debated the Soviet Union’s fall. Nicolas Powell argues in “The Effect of Glasnost on the Dissolution of the Soviet Union” that it was solely “the collateral outcome of perestroika through glasnost that brought about the end of Soviet Commu- nism.”6 Powell insightfully claims that in a Russian-dominated Soviet Union, minority ethnic groups in periphery states had long suffered oppression. Upon introduction of perestroika and glasnost, theCrimeanTartars,Caucuses,andBalticsvoiceddissent,periphery states broke away, and the Soviet Union collapsed.7 Similarly, New


York Times journalist Scott Shane argues in Dismantling Utopia: How Information Ended the Soviet Union that glasnost was the sole reason for the USSR’s fall. In Shane’s account, newly-released government intelligence revived the press, television, and pop culture, allow- ing more accurate information to reach a wider audience. This sudden shift toward openness, however, could not match up with the clandestine foundations of the Soviet Union. In effect, Shane argues, “Information slew the totalitarian giant.”8 But glasnost and perestroika alone were not enough to cause the USSR’s demise, nor do they explain the speed with which it happened. Moreover, other Communist countries, most notably China, have gradually made similar reforms and thrived as a result. A closer look at recently declassified Soviet and American government documents from the period reveals that it was the Chernobyl disaster that intensi- fied four volatile reforms: increased concern for citizen welfare, glasnost, perestroika, and demilitarization. Chernobyl caused these democratic changes to work simultaneously, an explosive com- bination that severely undermined the Communist system and accelerated the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The Human Toll: From Callousness to Concern

The Soviet government had a long history of callousness toward its citizens’ welfare, even involving itself in inhumane acts of torture and genocide. Soviet interrogators during the Red Terror (1918) peeled skin off victims’ hands and, in the winter, poured water on naked bodies to create ice statues.9 War Communism (1918–1921) and the Russian famine (1921) added to the first Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin’s reputation for cruelty. Yet, it was his successor, Joseph Stalin, who brought cruelty against citizens to a peak with his Great Terror (1937–1938), replete with political purges, show trials, and peasant repression, not to mention the Ukraine Famine. Following Stalin’s Terror, Nikita Khrushchev’s Khrushchev Thaw (1955–1960) made Soviet callousness less bla- tant and severe; however, it did continue on a smaller scale.10 The Chernobyl explosion, which caused the most human casualties in

230 Callie Phui-Yen Hoon

the region since World War II, and the government’s response to it reminded Soviet citizens of this history of callousness and raised concerns that not much had changed.

Immediately after the Chernobyl disaster, two plant work- ers died from heat burns and the reactor’s collapse.11 Within days, 29 firefighters exposed to immediate radiation had died.12 Authorities had told them that the reactor was merely on fire and not radioactive, allowing firefighters to quell the inferno without protective clothing, thus worsening their exposure.13 According to Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly, scholars in Soviet studies, at least 4,000 out of 600,000 liquidators died of excessive radia- tion exposure and ensuing complications by 1991.14 The general populace was next to be affected. A 77,000-square-mile radioac- tive cloud contaminated much of Ukraine, Belarus, and part of western Russia.15 The nearby cities of Kiev (population 500,000), Pripyat (45,000), and Chernobyl (12,000) were exceptionally pol- luted. In fact, a 1,600-square-mile exclusion zone, or prohibited area around the nuclear plant, still remains today.16 While most of the early impact might have been unavoidable, Soviet authorities’ response to the situation exacerbated the long-term effects.

While authorities did evacuate heavily radiated areas a day after the accident, they deceived most citizens regarding the situation’s magnitude. Leaders waited to inform Pripyat and Kiev of the radiation leak until noon and two o’clock in the afternoon (11 and 13 hours after the explosion) respectively.17 Once evacu- ations of the two cities finally began, authorities told evacuees that they would be returned home in a few days. The government also delayed evacuation of the remaining exclusion zone a week after the disaster to intentionally keep evacuees to a minimum.18 According to recently declassified KGB documents, up to 10 days after the disaster, un-evacuated villages a mere three miles from the power plant were continually exposed to unnecessary radiation. And despite great outcry, authorities also moved some evacuees to Slavutich, a city newly built in the aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion, which had radioactive hotspots.19 In one particularly


callous move, Soviet leaders demanded that 51,000 heads of Pri- pyat cattle be moved before people, showing the government’s misplaced belief that livestock took precedence over citizens.20

In total, nearly 135,000 evacuees were displaced.21 This evacuation, however minimal, divided families and irreversibly disrupted the lives of those evacuated. In exchange for their troubles, the Soviet government offered evacuees only a $400 cash grant.22 In addition, authorities forced some families to pay around $500 to stay at the Kharkov Recreation Center, a summer village outfitted as a major refugee settlement—an exorbitant price for lamentable conditions. Remaining evacuees were left in the lurch as landlords in now overly-populated refugee cities raised rent prices. Eventually, conflict arose between evacuees who sought permanent homes and the government that provided them only temporary housing.23 Stanislav Konstantinov, a former Chernobyl designer and evacuee, accurately described the effects of the Soviet government’s callousness, “we…are rolling around the whole union like rolling stones, getting fixed up at our own risk.”24

Lack of attention and care for citizens allowed authorities to spread radioactive contamination beyond the immediate vicinity of the Chernobyl plant. Radiation peppered the Dnieper River, Ukraine’s main body of water used by over 36 million people.25 Nuclear fallout also tainted over 77,000 square miles of land, devastating the Ukraine’s Black Earth Region, a naturally fertile breadbasket that fed millions of people in the Soviet Union.26 In fact, radiation in foods ranging from milk and dairy to vegetables and berries exceeded permitted levels.27 KGB reports reveal that during the Ministry of Agriculture’s radiation monitoring checks, seven out of 196 food samples were found heavily contaminated nearly six months after the explosion.28 In a particularly egre- gious instance, the Politburo on May 8 disseminated radiation- contaminated meat mixed with healthy meat, exposing many more citizens to radiation.29 The government could easily have avoided the continued spread of radiated food by discarding contaminated agricultural products, yet officials chose to disregard human wel-

232 Callie Phui-Yen Hoon

fare. Dr. John Gofman, an American scientist, estimated that there have been 320,000 fatal and 320,000 non-fatal cancers as a result of this callousness.30 Furthermore, from 1985 to 1990, congenital newborn conditions linked to radiation exposure increased from 13,000 to 14,400 a year.31

After Chernobyl, the needless human suffering caused by government action was the first motivation to reform the Soviet system. Adding to the deluge of previous governmental faults, Chernobyl worsened already tense government-citizen relations. As civilians demonstrated from below, Soviet authorities grudg- ingly began to recognize that they had to address civilian welfare and basic human rights. Discussions on public health and ecology were rife; citizens established environmental groups, including the prominent Green Party, and staged ecological rallies in Kazakhstan in 1986, Armenia in 1988, Georgia in 1989, and Kiev in 1990 that demanded greater environmental awareness in the region. This newfound public consciousness and environmental activism forced Gorbachev to issue a resolution on improving ecological health in July 1987.32 He also agreed to re-establish trust between govern- ment and citizens by ensuring the Soviet government’s adherence to human rights laws in Soviet society.33 Such change, however, weakened the state because the Soviet Union was formed on the basis of citizen suppression, something greater civility toward its people would undermine. Valery Legasov, prominent chemist and head of the Chernobyl disaster investigation committee, ad- mitted, “the general key to everything that has been happening is that we have for a prolonged period been ignoring the role of the moral principle.”34 With increased openness came increased responsibility, including responsibility for the people’s welfare and the environment; progress, the Soviet government was quickly forced to realize, must go hand-in-hand with humanism.

The Political Toll: From Secrecy to Glasnost

The transition from Soviet callousness to concern oc- curred simultaneously with that from secrecy to glasnost. Secrecy,


propaganda, and suppression of criticism had always been part of Russia’s main survival tactics. In 1787 for example, Grigory Potemkin, Catherine the Great’s favored military leader, set up glorious Potemkin Villages as the queen cruised down the Dnieper River banks, yet what lay behind these eye-pleasing facades was repugnant and disorderly. Continuing this tradition, Soviet lead- ers had been using beautiful veneers to mask their unimpressive interiors in the years before Chernobyl. For example, Soviet secret police used force to silence oppression and spread the image of a healthy, flourishing Union.35 Manifest on a large scale during the Chernobyl disaster, such secrecy later bowed to glasnost or openness.

While the reliance on secrecy was generally important to the Soviet government, it was especially vital to the Soviet nuclear power program. Instead of acknowledging and improving its technical flaws, nuclear authorities hastily concealed them to avoid tarnishing a picture-perfect reputation.36 In 1976 and 1981, the USSR and Kiev KGB security and intelligence agencies wrote memoranda revealing faults of the Chernobyl plant. Despite recognizing poor workmanship and technical rule violations, the government failed to inform those who could have fixed the problems, and no action was taken. As a result, Chernobyl experi- enced 29 emergency shutdowns from 1977 to 1981.37 This secrecy culminated in a large but well-hidden accident on September 10, 1982: a partial meltdown in one of the plant’s reactors. The first team sent to examine the effects was a government commis- sion appointed by the USSR Ministry of Energy, which reported slight to no increases in radioactivity in the vicinity. Yet, a second independent team of specialists from the Institute for Nuclear Re- search of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR recorded dangerously high radiation levels up to 14 kilometers away. This second team attributed the leak to poor construction and called for better analysis of the situation; however, Soviet government documents show that Chernobyl Plant Director Viktor Bryukha- nov brushed these concerns aside and silenced critics.38 Pushing problems under the rug allowed substandard infrastructure, faulty

234 Callie Phui-Yen Hoon

equipment, and poor materials to persist, ultimately leading to the meltdown in 1986.

Immediately after the 1986 disaster, lack of glasnost con- tinued to permeate Soviet life. Information about the Chernobyl calamity was continuously misrepresented at all levels, from plant operators to plant management, and then to the government and the public. About an hour after the explosion at 2:15 a.m., plant operators alerted Soviet authorities to the accident but assured them that the situation was under control. By noon that day, Soviet leaders finally dispatched their own commission headed by Valery Legasov.39 When observing the site by helicopter on the night of the accident, Legasov noticed “huge spots of crimson incandes- cence,” a definite sign of excessive radiation.40 His observations clearly revealed that the accident was much bigger than previously reported, and that the power plant’s operators had lied to the Soviet government. Nevertheless, he, too, only revealed this discovery to the people much later, showing that both misinformation and disinformation pervaded the Soviet system.

Even once the Soviet government recognized the extent of the accident, it failed to alert the international community. The delay in disaster reporting defied the final act of the Helsinki Ac- cords crafted during the 1975 Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which obligated all nations to inform the world immediately in the case of a nuclear disaster.41 In any case, the meltdown was so massive that neighboring European countries quickly detected spikes in radioactivity. Sweden, 1,400 miles away from Ukraine, was the first to raise the alarm. On April 28, radia- tion levels 40 percent higher than normal were detected during a routine radioactivity check at a nuclear power plant in Forsmark, Sweden.42 There was no local leak, however, and prevailing winds suggested a Soviet origin. The Swedish ambassador in Moscow questioned three Soviet government agencies but to no avail.43 As thirst for information grew, the United States turned to artificial satellite intelligence that supplied pictures of the Chernobyl plant. These pictures captured images of unwitting civilians still inhabit- ing the area, including a group of completely unaware citizens


playing soccer in the foreground of the plant.44 On April 30, the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror in London ran harrowing headlines such as “2,000 Dead in Atom Horror: Reports in Russia Danger Zone Tell of Hospitals Packed with Radiation Accident Victims” and “Please Get Me Out Mummy: Terror of Trapped Britons as 2,000 are Feared Dead in Nuclear Horror” that only increased the international panic.45

On the local level, Soviet officials were equally tight-lipped about the plant meltdown. The first public acknowledgment of the disaster came from the government nearly three days after the accident. Soviet authorities released a terse 14-second announce- ment on government-controlled Radio Moscow, revealing only that a Chernobyl reactor had been damaged and the “affected [were] being given aid,” a standard comment that had been used in commonplace events like coal-mining accidents. The chairman of the Ukrainian Council of Ministers, O. Liashko, later justified this tardiness by claiming erroneously that “the measurements at first showed there was nothing to fear.”46 Meanwhile, Soviet officials blocked information from Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, which had begun to broadcast international reports of the incident within the USSR.47 While information delay was part of the Soviet instinct, the international scale of the disaster forced the end of the information drought. Soviet authorities were conflicted. They were both determined to counteract inflated and caustic Western accusations but still yearned for an information embargo. Finally bowing to the pressure, April 30 editions of Ukraine’s major newspapers revealed more to the populace, yet did so with little urgency. Pravda Ukraine printed a brief statement repeating Radio Moscow’s message at the bottom of the paper’s third page, and Robitnycha Hazeta (Kiev’s Workers’ Gazette) printed the same announcement tucked away below Soviet soccer league tables.48

Attempts to keep up the pretense of normality continued in the vicinity. Soviet authorities quietly cut off travel to Kiev and confiscated radiation-monitoring equipment from professional institutes, thereby limiting local civilian knowledge of the danger.49

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Annual May Day celebrations in Moscow continued as planned followed by a massive parade in Kiev. Civilians performed on ma- jor roads, and cyclists completed the annual Peace Bicycle Race across Eastern Europe from Kiev to Prague. But viewing stands where Soviet leaders usually sat remained noticeably empty.50 The government ordered schools and stores to remain open to help maintain an impression of normal life. The only noticeable changes were government distribution of iodine tablets to block the effects of radiation and new restrictions on playing in open sandboxes that collected radiation fallout.51

As information about the accident at Chernobyl began to spread, the Soviet government did all it could to contain and control the story. Starting on May 6, 10 days after the Chernobyl accident, authorities began broadcasting a series of tepid warn- ings against consuming leafy vegetables, drinking alcohol, and smoking. On May 7, Yuri Sedunov, deputy chairman of the USSR’s State Committee for Hydrometeorology and Control of Natural Environment, reported to the public that the highest radiation reading in the area was only 15 mrem an hour.52 The next day, however, Hans Blix, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, flew over the area by helicopter and recorded 350 mrem per hour, far exceeding the Soviet government’s claim.53 The government also failed to be frank about radiation levels in food. While insisting that Soviet crops were safe for consumption, it smuggled vegetables out of Kiev that clocked measurements 13 times the maximum allowed by the British National Radiological Protection Board.54 Authorities even silenced attempts to set the record straight. Vladimir Yavorivsky, a Pripyat journalist, accused authorities in a newspaper article entitled “The X-ray of Truth” of misleading Kiev civil defense troops who first reported to the scene of the accident. According to Yavorivsky, the government had told the troops only that there was a fire at Chernobyl, not a meltdown. Yavorivsky nearly lost his job over the article.55 Finally, nearly three weeks after the accident, Gorbachev made his first speech on the incident on May 14, justifying the delay by citing conflicting data and the need to analyze the situation thoroughly before releasing an official statement.56


Even after Gorbachev and the Soviet government had offi- cially acknowledged the disaster, misinformation was still rampant. On the rare occasions that there was Soviet news on the disaster, it was often propaganda. These articles glorified “heroes” but did not include facts. For example, one newspaper article, “Radioac- tive Water Drenches Firemen” in the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union, described a team of firemen pumping radioactive water out of the Chernobyl plant. When a hose burst, the firefighters were drenched, yet the article’s author claimed that “nobody left the place until the leakage of water was eliminated, albeit they knew well to what danger they were exposing themselves.” Thanks to these heroes, the article concluded cheerily, “Everything ended well.”57 The article dismissed the side effects as trivial and focused on how the firemen willingly took the brunt of the radia- tion. Authorities also heaped praise on Soviet villages that took Chernobyl evacuees in. Another article “Nearby Rayons58 absorb Population” reported on the proliferation of the phrase “We’re all in this together,” claiming that “One large misfortune had united people into a single family where everything in the home is shared equally by all.”59 Such false optimism generated by government- controlled newspapers starkly contrasted with first-hand accounts later collected from survivors, including Nadjiev DeBorakova who lamented that her daughter was shunned by neighboring villages for being “a Chernobyl rabbit…[that] glows in the dark.”60

Authorities also tampered with medical statistics to lessen the appearance of a health emergency. Although it is difficult to pinpoint those exposed to excessive radiation and even more challenging to link diseases to the Chernobyl disaster, scientists and scholars are certain that official USSR reports severely under- reported cases related to Chernobyl. For example, authorities discharged many unrecovered patients to lighten the appearance of the situation. On May 12, 1986, they recorded that 10,198 had been hospitalized, out of which only a surprisingly low number (345) showed documented radiation sickness symptoms. Although authorities reduced the numbers of the sick on the surface, the truncated treatment actually made citizens more vulnerable. The Soviet Health Ministry increased its recommended limit of radia-

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tion on May 8 to 10 times the limit allowed before the Chernobyl incident.61 Authorities also raised the radiation limits to facilitate the return of evacuees to affected areas. On June 23, Soviet au- thorities returned children and women to areas with radiation of 5 mrems an hour, however, a fetus should only be exposed to a maximum of 50 mrems a month.62

This callousness outraged citizens. Later in the year, Pravda conceded, “shifts in people’s moods came from uncertainty that was sometimes promoted by belated information on the real state of affairs at the site of the accident.”63 Citizens, in their rage, demanded greater openness, or glasnost. While Gorbachev had passively promoted glasnost from its beginnings in the 1950s, Chernobyl and its aftermath saw its evolution from a mere political concept to a social revolution. After citizen outrage in the wake of the disaster, Gorbachev began to actively encourage glasnost, suggested self-criticism within the Communist Party, and endorsed a “final report” on the disaster for “international discussion.”64 What made glasnost so effective after Chernobyl was the disaster’s devastating consequences that not only prodded less reform- minded ministers to change their mindset, but also encouraged a revolution from the people below.65 By June 4, 1986, newspa- pers such as Literaturnaya Gazeta published “Alarm and Hope” describing fearful mothers and condemning media that had yet to embrace glasnost. Its author Yuri Shcherbak described govern- ment reports as “falsely cheerful and facilely confident-sounding notes” that described not a “great common misfortune but some kind of training alarm or competition between firefighters using models.”66 Once authorities openly discussed Soviet secrecy, visible change occurred. Glasnost allowed for newfound freedom of the press, which led to reports of current government problems and past state crimes. In one powerful example, Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem, which described Stalin’s Terror—a previously banned sub- ject—was finally published in the Soviet Union in 1987.67 Similarly, freedom of speech enabled citizens to voice their opinions, and protests in the streets spread on a variety of political issues.68 The 1986 Chernobyl disaster provided a breakthrough in willingness to present both positive and negative sides of issues. Above all,


it fueled the thirst for truth behind the Potemkin villages of the Soviet Union.

The Economic Toll: From Economic Centralization to Perestroika

Plagued by misinformation and disinformation, the Soviet Union was also burdened with unproductive economic centralization. Under central planning, the state controlled the economic system, investment, financial planning, and price systems. Collective farming and a military-industrial complex, in particular, characterized the corruption-plagued Soviet central planning system. Because of an inefficient economic system, the Soviet economy was growing weaker over the years; Soviet GNP growth dropped from 4.2 percent in 1928 to 2.0 percent by the early 1980s.69 In addition, the Soviet Union drained its economy by inefficient spending on unnecessary wars. These included the Soviet War in Afghanistan (1979–1989) that cost the Soviet Union $500 million.70 While the Soviet government was already facing pressure to relieve economic decline, Chernobyl compounded the USSR’s debt and further revealed the system’s flaws.

The direct costs of the Chernobyl disaster were exception- ally high. Authorities had to construct a sarcophagus around the damaged reactor to contain radiation. It was not only expensive to build but also required constant maintenance.71 Decontamina- tion of the surrounding area was elaborate; reservoirs needed to be protected and radioactive silt contained. Authorities signed a $23-million contract to construct a horizontal diaphragm and prevent lateral radiation spread. Other expensive purchases in- cluded robots, tunneling equipment, and polymerizing solutions to counter radioactive fallout.72 The accident also destroyed exist- ing industries, such as the Black Earth Region’s agricultural pow- erhouse, and deterred future investment in the area. More than 140,000 hectares of farmland and nearly 500,000 hectares of forest were abandoned.73 Material losses by 1989 totaled $300 million, but eventually rose to tens of billions in the long run.74 Some losses

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were irreplaceable, such as historical relics.75 Evacuation of people and compensation for their losses consumed nearly $1 billion from the state budget, and $200 million from social insurance funds. Authorities paid cash benefits to the temporarily disabled, farm- ers for lost harvests, and even people living in less contaminated areas for consuming hazardous food supplies.76 Compounding the costs, leaders compensated people exposed to more than 25 rem of radiation—the equivalent radiation exposure of two and a half chest X-rays—with five monthly salaries, tempting citizens to feign overexposure.77 At the same time, the government had to improve its healthcare system to handle the influx of patients, an expensive and laborious task.78 In all, experts today estimate the total direct costs of the accident to be nearly $588 billion.79

Yet, the direct costs of the explosion were only the begin- ning. The Soviet nuclear industry took a major hit after Chernobyl as well. Regulators shut down two undamaged reactors at the Chernobyl plant for five months after the accident and halted construction of two new reactors on the site. Other nuclear plants were closed for improvements, reducing Soviet energy generation by 5 percent in 1987.80 These improvements included lengthening control rods and improving automatic shutdown mechanisms, which totaled $400 million. Unable to handle the rising costs of updates, the Soviet government simply abandoned other plants. In order to make up for the loss in energy production, Soviets became newly dependent on oil, which demanded new machinery and higher production costs. Businesses held back from investing and the economy stagnated. In desperation, the Soviet govern- ment appealed to other countries for donations.81 Coupled with the direct costs of the explosion, these larger economic burdens drove the Soviet government even more sharply into debt.

Chernobyl caused not only immense financial burdens but also reflected the failures of the entire economic system. For years there had been warnings that central planning led to a collective ethos of irresponsibility, arrogance, and servility. The nuclear power industry was not immune to these flaws. Ye. S. Ivanov, chief of the Production Department of the Ministry of Energy, griped, “Not a


single nuclear power plant fully adheres to the operating regula- tions.”82 Even Legasov, a staunch nuclear advocate, was himself “amazed that one can do such highly responsible work at such shoddy building sites.”83 From the beginning, Chernobyl failed to even meet western safety standards. This was because authorities made responsibility and discipline secondary to wealth and politi- cal power, causing low morale and productivity and encouraging absenteeism. As Literaturnaya Gazeta reported, “it cost nothing to arrange a protracted smoking break in the middle of the work day or set out on a ‘fuel trip.’” Besides not setting a standard for its workers and finished goods, the Soviet economic system also fostered both a false sense of Soviet superiority and a subservience that encouraged ingratiation, cheating, and bribery. Gorbachev accurately lamented that Soviet workers “do a real grandma’s polka around leaders,” waltzing between ruthlessness and servility when appropriate.84

Chernobyl manifested the failures of the Soviet central planning system on a small scale with large ramifications. Because the system fostered collective irresponsibility, it encouraged care- lessness and shoddy work that left Chernobyl with a multitude of equipment failures.85 These included frequent leaks, defunct valves, and a lack of on-site radiation-monitoring equipment.86 The reactor that leaked, for example, deviated from Russian nuclear regulations. In fact, a main pipe was poorly welded, and the radia- tion expert who supposedly examined and approved it did not exist at all. Furthermore, the system encouraged people to dismiss steps to meet deadlines. A particular time when workers rushed was shturn—a period of increased demand prior to a national holi- day. For Chernobyl workers, this change was especially important because the fateful late-April day occurred just before May Day celebrations. The timing pressed them to rush the test, for if the poorly-executed test was not successful, management would have to wait a year longer to re-conduct it. To meet the deadline, plant directors overrode safety rules. Although emergency core cooling systems should be on standby for the test, plant directors feared it would trigger emergency flooding and stop the testing. Thus,

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they appealed to the USSR State Committee on Operational Safety in the Nuclear Power Industry for approval to switch the cooling systems off.87 Bottled down by inefficient bureaucracies, however, the committee did not approve this measure before the test. The plant directors, clouded over by “a false sense of friendship [with the reactor],” shut the systems off anyway.88 To make matters worse, they also placed an unqualified, “slow-witted, quarrelsome, and difficult” supervisor, Anatoly Dyatlov, at the helm.89 Dyatlov was the Janus-faced Soviet worker paradigm; he was haughty with subordi- nates and acquiescent to authorities. Dyatlov pushed safety limits and left operators in the hands of an increasingly uncontrollable reactor. Workers, because of the subservient Soviet mentality, felt that they could not question Dyatlov.90 Yurii Shcherbak, leader of a nascent Ukrainian environmental movement, reflected later, “Chernobyl was not like the Communist system. They were one and the same.”91 Irresponsibility, arrogance, and excessive subservience fostered by the central planning system showed their true colors in Chernobyl.

Faced with the looming costs and the obvious failures of the economic system after Chernobyl, Soviet leaders quickly embraced perestroika as a solution.92 First, the six officials and technicians responsible for the disaster were tried and sentenced, showing that the Soviet government was serious about dealing with the consequences of its failed system. Moving to reforms of the larger economic system, Gorbachev published Perestroika barely a year after the Chernobyl disaster in which he outlined his primary ideas. According to him, perestroika was both a political and economic concept—it would provide for authentic elections and democra- tized politics while encouraging private enterprise.93 While he had developed this concept decades before Chernobyl, Gorbachev only put it into practice after the calamitous 1986 Chernobyl explosion.94 He now derided the “1920s or 1930s standards” and “everything goes” attitude of central planning and resolved to strengthen the reliability of the Soviet economy.95 Shortly after, the Soviet govern- ment passed the Law on State Enterprises establishing a plan to decrease state ownership of enterprises. By 1990, at least 70 percent of enterprises would be privately owned.96 Furthermore, authorities


shifted the emphasis from “heavy industries” to high-technology ones, improved old materials and infrastructure, removed price controls, and completely re-orchestrated the credit system.97 The disaster at Chernobyl forced Soviet authorities to re-evaluate the effectiveness of its centralized economic system, a central tenet of Communism, eventually abandoning it for perestroika.

The Military Toll: From a Military-Industrial Complex to Demili- tarization

Besides revealing the failures of the inefficient Soviet cen- tral planning system, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster also shamed its military-industrial complex (MIC). The term MIC was coined by former United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961 to refer to the three-pronged relationship between military estab- lishments, industries that produced arms, and the ruling political party.98 While the MIC had continually evolved from its beginnings in the early 1930s, it reached a boiling point during the Cold War standoff with the United States. Pressured into rapid, mindless, and ineffective arms buildup, the Soviet Union’s MIC reached a breaking point in the Chernobyl disaster.

The Soviet MIC had a number of flaws, many of which directly affected the nuclear power facilities under its command. First, according to Gorbachev’s memoirs, the MIC was highly exclusive—essentially a “state within a state”—and decisions were independently made by a three-person committee.99 With such freedom from public view, nuclear power plants proliferated at the expense of Soviet citizens. Second, the MIC suppressed dissenting factions within the scientific community. For example, Dr. V.A. Sido- renko, a Soviet nuclear specialist, challenged inadequate personnel training, but MIC leaders refused to support his efforts.100 Finally, the MIC allowed the use of poor technology. Despite consuming a quarter of Soviet economic output by the 1980s and deploying the most qualified laborers and managers, the MIC was plagued by outdated equipment and useless spending.101 Nuclear power

244 Callie Phui-Yen Hoon

plants, for example, lacked adequate control systems. Although the MIC risked detrimental consequences in case of an accident, leaders never questioned the plants’ safety. They instead directed Soviet resources elsewhere, and MIC meetings discussed future nuclear development rather than immediate needs.102 It was these failures that in part directly caused the Chernobyl accident. As Gorbachev later lamented, “The split between science and morality in Soviet society, and the amorality of an elite part of the scientific intelligentsia, bore their terrible fruit in Chernobyl.”103

By the time of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, there were 113 reactors under construction or operational in the Soviet Union. All of these were undermined by the MIC’s poor technological decisions from the outset. Despite recognizing the advantages of American-made nuclear reactors, Soviet inventors and MIC officials were determined to create a wholly Soviet system for state glori- fication during the Cold War.104 Immersion in blind competition with the United States made the Soviet MIC oblivious to pressing problems. An official in the Soviet Ministry of Energy observed “the ordinary citizen was made to believe that the peaceful atom was virtually a panacea and the ultimate in genuine safety, ecological cleanliness, and reliability.”105 This Utopian view of Chernobyl’s technology made outcasts of dissidents and further encouraged technological lapses.106 As the American Nuclear Regulatory Com- mission had astutely predicted, the Chernobyl nuclear plant itself was constantly unstable. The MIC had based Chernobyl’s set-up on overly optimistic assumptions. One such premise was the belief that only one out of every hundred pressure tubes would rupture in the worst-case accident.107 In fact, all 1,660 tubes exploded in the disaster.108 Moreover, declassified internal documents reveal that the MIC adopted what it knew to be ineffective technology, including poor building materials and slipshod workers, from other plants for the fatal Chernobyl plant.109

Despite the MIC’s early proclamations in support of the nuclear program, Chernobyl was a turning point for the MIC, a transition best captured by the changing opinions of Valery Legasov, an MIC official. Legasov remained a dedicated nuclear


energy advocate shortly after the disaster, telling Pravda in June 1986 that nuclear energy remained the “pinnacle of achievement of the power generation.”110 At the time, Legasov argued that the Chernobyl meltdown was a product of operator error rather than inherent weakness in the system. As time passed, however, with an insider’s perspective as the head investigator of the Chernobyl disaster, Legasov witnessed the Soviet Union’s flaws for himself. In his 1988 memoir “It is My Duty to Tell About This,” Legasov asserted, “The enemy is not technology itself, but our [the MIC’s] incompetence, our [the MIC’s] irresponsibility in dealing with it,”111 Legasov’s shift was representative of that of many leaders, including Gorbachev himself who later confessed, “Chernobyl opened my eyes like nothing else.” Following Chernobyl, Gorbachev acceler- ated work to reduce the MIC’s power, first altering ideology, then policy.112 In fact, he encouraged a system of checks and balances, including the new Ministry of Atomic Power Engineering, to organize different aspects of the Soviet MIC. Soon after in 1987, citizens began to publicly protest against the MIC, the first time such demonstrations had ever been done.113 In the aftermath of the accident and amidst citizen fury, Gorbachev decided that nuclear power was neither a panacea for energy needs nor a cost-effective energy source.114 Gradually weaning away from nuclear power was not enough; in order to improve the MIC as a whole, the Soviet Union had to reduce arms buildup. Hence, Gorbachev preached the value of peace and revived arms talks with the United States.115 Gorbachev’s efforts resulted in the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty and an arms control summit at Reykjavik, Iceland.116 Using a new military thinking based on keeping arms to a minimum, the Soviet government was increasingly willing to impose limits on its military’s size.117 Chernobyl thus weakened the traditional Soviet emphasis on military production, which had been a cornerstone of the Soviet system.

246 Callie Phui-Yen Hoon Conclusion

Failures of the military-industrial complex and the central planning system, lack of openness, callousness of authorities toward citizens, and exorbitant economic spending in the Soviet Union had been ongoing for years. They were, however, either ignored or half-heartedly addressed. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster resulted from a combination of all of these deficiencies and highlighted them on a massive scale; both domestic and international commu- nities were now aware and determined to act. As citizens pressed from below, a reform-minded Gorbachev, elected a year before the disaster, initiated change from the top. The disaster thus ac- celerated reforms, including increased care for citizens, glasnost, perestroika, and demilitarization. These democratically-oriented changes, however, did not agree with the Soviet Union’s old Com- munist foundations. Showing concern for citizens destroyed the characteristically Soviet history of heavy-handed control. Glasnost opened the state up to candid criticism and made it vulnerable for the first time in history. Perestroika reduced the state’s power, effectively destroying the basis of Communism in absolute state power.118 Demilitarization was the last straw for the Soviet Union; it ended the latter’s only strength: a menacing defense.

These reforms, if initiated separately, probably would not have had the same effect as they did when combined; a singular reform gradually implemented may not have caused the collapse of both the nation state and its Communist party. The Communist Party of China (CCP), which has ruled the People’s Republic of China since 1949, either implemented one reform at a time or spread them out, and today challenges even the United States for superpower status. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping implemented changes that focused on long-term economic reforms so that Communist China could transition from a centrally-planned socialist economy to a market-based one. Deng described Chinese perestroika, or gai ge kai fang, as “crossing the river by feeling for the stones under- foot.” It was a gradual process of developing the private sector, increasing global competitiveness, and improving state-owned


firms, unlike the rapid form of perestroika that the Soviets were forced to undertake.119 For example, Deng established Special Economic Zones, pilot programs for economic reform, along China’s peripheries. As a result, monopoly of state enterprises decreased from 80 percent of China’s GDP in 1978 to 25 percent by 1997.120 Deng also promoted an agricultural reform program under which farmers progressed from collectivized production for the government to a system in which farmers gave a set amount to the government but kept the rest for themselves. First imple- mented in 1979 for remote areas, it extended to poorer regions in 1980, and was formally legalized across the country in 1983. In all, China has taken more than 30 years to spread economic reforms, while the Soviet Union attempted to implement similar changes in only the five years after the Chernobyl disaster.

China’s attempts at change were primarily successful because China only focused on economic reforms. Unlike the Soviet Union, China was not forced by a national crisis to increase openness or reform its military. China remained just as secretive as before, quashing dissent and controlling censorship.121 In fact, Freedom House calculated that from 1990 to 1991, political freedom in China on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 meaning least free and 7 most free) was 1, while that of the Soviet Union was 3.5. In the area of military strength, China’s defense expenses of $43 billion in 1989 was one-seventh of that of the Soviet Union.122 This dif- ference was due to China’s focus on quality of arms and keeping arms to the minimum needed for defense.123 As a result, China was less deep in the abyss than the Soviets and thus never felt pres- sured to reform its MIC. Because China had the ability to focus on a single reform, change failed to divide the country; rather, it encouraged growth.

On the other hand, the destructive combination of Soviet reforms culminated in the fall of the Soviet Union with a big bang. This single high-profile accident at Chernobyl crippled the Soviet system and demanded comprehensive reforms immediately. Gor- bachev promoted progressive changes on top of a conservative base; it was like fitting a square peg in a round hole. He promised

248 Callie Phui-Yen Hoon

to modernize the Soviet Union by promoting individual rights and ensuring a respectable quality of life. These changes soon grew revolutionary. Citizens were no longer afraid of expressing dissent and demanding a system more effective than Communism. Although Gorbachev never once questioned his allegiance to Communism, the combination of four reforms at the same time built up explosive revolutionary tensions that escalated out of control. Government-initiated at first, they were eventually pushed through by the people. The formation of other political parties was permitted in 1989, Communist supremacy ended in 1990, and finally the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster sprung from the Soviet Union’s major deficiencies and impelled multiple simultaneous reforms. This calamity not only showed the Soviet Union’s flaws, but also accelerated its fall, and the region’s move toward a somewhat more democratic govern- ment.


1 Bob Graham and Zenon Matkiwsky, Effects of the Accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Powerplant (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992) p. 1

2 Nuclear Energy Institute, “Fact Sheet: Comparing Chernobyl and Fukushima,” (April 2011), https://www.ncdps. gov/div/EM/JapanEQ/CompFukushima-Chernobyl.pdf

3 Claire Bigg and Gulnoza Saidazimova, “The Martyrs of Chernobyl,” Radio Free Europe, 2005

4 “It’s as If the State Wants Us to Die Sooner,” Der Spiegel (April 26, 2006)

5 “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, (accessed December 28, 2012)

6 Nicholas Powell, “The Effect of Glasnost on the Dissolution of the Soviet Union,” The Concord Review 22, no. 3 (Spring 2012) p. 122

  1. 7  Ibid., pp. 107–123
  2. 8  Scott Shane, Dismantling Utopia: How Information

Ended the Soviet Union (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1994) p. 6

9 W. Al., “Red Terror: Torture of a Nation,” The Sydney Morning Herald (June 18, 1927)

10 “War Communism,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, (accessed December 28, 2012);“Famine of 1932,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, (accessed December 28, 2012); “Joseph Stalin,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, http:// (accessed December 28, 2012); “Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, (accessed December 28, 2012)

11 Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Report on the Accident at the Nuclear Power Station (Washington D.C., January 1987) p. 7.14

  1. 12  Graham and Matkiwsky, p. 1
  2. 13  David R. Marples, The Social Impact of the Chernobyl

Disaster (London: Macmillan Academic and Professional Ltd., 1988) p. 30

14 Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly Jr., Ecocide in the USSR: Health and Nature under Siege (New York: Basic Books, 1992) p. 146

15 Central Intelligence Agency, “Radiation Contamination after the Chernobyl Disaster,” Making the History of 1989, Item #173, (accessed August 25, 2012)

250 Callie Phui-Yen Hoon

16 The Chernobyl Accident: Hearing Before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, 99th Cong (1986) p. 46

  1. 17  Nuclear Regulatory Commission, p. 7.7
  2. 18  Ibid., p. 7.9
  3. 19  Office of the Colonel Chief, “No. 93, AEC [Special

report of the UkrSSR KGBM of Kiev and Kiev Oblast to the 6th Directorate of the UkrSSR KGB concerning the radioactive situation and the progress on the cleanup operation after the accident at the Chernobyl NPP],” (September 5, 1987) Security Service of Ukraine, doccatalog/list?currDir=41853 (hereafter cited as SSU) pp. 2–4; Alyaksandr Shramko, “No. 97, AEC [Special message

KGB USSR in Kyiv and Kyiv region to the 6th Department
KGB USSR about the radiation situation and progress in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident],” (October 2, 1987) SSU, p. 5

20 Central Intelligence Agency Office of Soviet Analysis, The Chernobyl Accident: Social and Political Implications (December 1987) p. 5

21 Marples, The Social Impact of the Chernobyl Disaster, p. 31

22 All financial data in this paper has been converted
from 1980s rubles to current-day U.S. dollars for clarity and consistency. 6th Directorate of the KGB of the Ukrainian
SSR, “No. 32, AEC [Information from the 6th Directorate
of the UkrSSR KGB concerning the radioactive situation in
the Republic and problems in the management of cleanup operations after the accident at the Chernobyl NPP],” (May 12, 1986) SSU, p. 2

23 S. Mukha, “No. 14, AEC [Report of the Chairman
of the UkrSSR KGB to the first secretary of the CC CPU concerning the radioactive contamination which occurred on the Chernobyl NPP industrial site due to the accident on September 9, 1982],” (November 5, 1982) SSU, p. 1

24 Boris Oleynik, “‘Lessons Learned’ from Disaster,” Literaturnaya Gazeta (September 24, 1986)

25 4th Department of the 6th Directorate of the KGB
of the Ukrainian SSR, “No. 42, AEC [Information from
the 4th Department of the 6th Directorate of the UkrSSR
KGB concerning the measures of the UkrSSR Ministry of Melioration and Water Economy on the cleanup operation after the accident at the Chernobyl NPP],” (June 3, 1986) SSU, p. 1


26 Mikhail Gorbachev, “Chernobyl 25 Years Later: Many Lessons Learned,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 67, no. 2 (March 1, 2011) pp. 77–80; The Chernobyl Accident, p. 116

  1. 27  Nuclear Regulatory Commission, p. 7.10
  2. 28  6th Directorate of the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR, “No.

70, [Information from the 6th Directorate of the UkrSSR KGB concerning the operational deficiencies of the Trade Ministry of the UkrSSR in organizing radiation monitoring of food],” (October 30, 1986) SSU, p. 1

29 Alia Yaroshinskaya, “Chernobyl’s Dirty Secrets,” The Moscow Times (April 28, 2011)

  1. 30  The Chernobyl Accident, p. 11
  2. 31  Graham and Matkiwsky, p. 4
  3. 32  Central Intelligence Agency Office of Soviet Analysis,

p. 12
33 Robert English, “Ideas and the End of the Cold

War: Rethinking Intellectual and Political Change,” in Reinterpreting the End of the Cold War: Issues, Interpretations, Periodizations, ed. Silvio Pons and Federico Romero (New York: Routledge, 2005) pp. 116–136

34 Quoted in Wade Edmund Roush, “Catastrophe and Control: How Technological Disasters Enhance Democracy” (Doctoral Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994) p. 307

35 “KGB,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, http://www. (accessed December 28, 2012)

36 Volodymyr Tykhyy, “From Archives of VUChK-GPU- NKVD-KGB,” (December 10, 2005),, pp. 252–263

37 2nd Directorate of the KGB attached to the Council
of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR, “No. 1 [Information on basic technical specifications on the Chernobyl NPP design],” (September 19, 1971) SSU, pp. 1–4; N. K. Vakulenko, “No. 2. AEC [Special report of the KGB Management (KGBM) at the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (CM UkSSR) on Kiev and Kiev Oblast to the KGB at the CM UkSSR concerning regular violations of construction and installation technology at the Chernobyl NPP construction sites],” (August 17, 1976) SSU, pp. 1–4; N. K. Vakulenko,
“No. 8. AEC [Report of the UkSrSR KGB of Kiev and Kiev Oblast to the UkrSSR KGB concerning the inadequate level
of operational reliability on the testing instruments of the

252 Callie Phui-Yen Hoon

Chernobyl NPP protection systems],” (October 16, 1981) SSU,

p. 1
38 Tykhyy, pp. 255–256; Mukha, pp. 1–2

  1. 39  Roush, p. 300
  2. 40  Quoted in Marcia Amidon Lüsted, The Chernobyl

Disaster (North Mankato, MN: ABDO Publishing Company, 2011) p. 48

41 The Chernobyl Accident; Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, “The Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe,” The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, August 1, 1975, http:// accords_ f9de6be034.pdf, pp. 1–57

  1. 42  Roush, pp. 1–3
  2. 43  Robert P. Gale and Thomas Hauser, Final Warning: The

Legacy of Chernobyl (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1988) p. 157

44 Nigel Hawkes et al., The Worst Accident in the World (London: Pan Books Ltd., 1986) pp. 122–123

45 Richard F. Mould, Chernobyl Record: The Definitive History of the Chernobyl Catastrophe (Bristol, U.K.: Institute of Physics Publishing, 2000) p. 352

46 David R. Marples, Chernobyl and Nuclear Power in the USSR (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986) p. 23

47 Robert McConnell, “Remembering the Soviet Response to Chernobyl,” National Review Online (April 26, 2011), remembering-soviet-response-chernobyl-robert-mcconnell#

48 Marples, Chernobyl and Nuclear Power in the USSR, p. 3

49 Central Intelligence Agency Office of Soviet Analysis, p. 10

50 Laszlo Kurti, “The Politics of Joking: Popular Response to Chernobyl,” The Journal of American Folklore 101, no. 401 (July 1988) p. 326; McConnell

  1. 51  N. K. Vakulenko, “No. 2,” pp. 1–5
  2. 52  Unit for measuring biological effects of ionizing


53 Yaroshinskaya

  1. 54  Hawkes, et al., p.207
  2. 55  John May, The Greenpeace Book of the Nuclear Age:

The Hidden History—The Human Cost (London: Greenpeace Books, 1989) p. 291


56 Erik P. Hoffmann, “Nuclear Deception: Soviet Information Policy,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 42, no. 7 (August 1986) pp. 32–37

57 “Radioactive Water Drenches Firemen,” Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (July 4, 1986)

  1. 58  Rayons are Soviet administrative units.
  2. 59  L. Peresypkina and I. Kuksa, “Nearby Rayons Absorb

Population,” Sovetskaya Belorussiya (May 8, 1986)

60 Melissa Block, “‘Voices of Chernobyl’: Survivors’ Stories,” National Public Radio (April 21, 2006) templates/story/story.php?storyId=5355810

  1. 61  Yaroshinskaya
  2. 62  Ibid.
  3. 63  Quoted in Nuclear Regulatory Commission, p. 7.22
  4. 64  Quoted in Hoffmann, p. 36
  5. 65  Ibid., pp. 32–37
  6. 66  Yu Shcherbak, “Alarm and Hope,” Literaturnaya Gazeta

(June 4, 1986)
67 Archie Brown, The Rise and Fall of Communism

(London: HarperCollins, 2009) p. 492
68 Lewis Siegelbaum, “Perestroika and Glasnost,” Seventeen

Moments in Soviet History, php?page=subject&SubjectID=1985perestroika&Year=1985&na vi=byYear (accessed January 4, 2013)

69 Gur Ofer, “Soviet Economic Growth: 1928–1985” (RAND/UCLA Center for the Study of Soviet International Behavior, May 1988) p. v

70 Directorate of Intelligence, The Costs of Soviet Involvement in Afghanistan, National Security Archive at George Washington University (February 1987), http://www.

71 International Atomic Energy Agency, “Shelter Implementation Plan: Chernobyl Shelter Fund,”(February 2000), chernobyl-15/shelter-fund.pdf, p. 2

72 Bennett Ramberg, “Learning from Chernobyl,” Foreign Affairs 65, no. 2 (Winter 1986) p. 317

73 International Atomic Energy Agency, “Information on Economic and Social Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident” (July 24, 1990), Documents/Infcircs/Others/infcirc383.pdf, p. 1

74 Ibid., p. 16

254 Callie Phui-Yen Hoon

75 L.V. Bykhov, “No. 96, AEC [Special Report of the UkrSSR KGBM of Kiev and Kiev Oblast to the 6th Directorate of the UkrSSR KGB Concerning the Radioactive Situation and the Progress on the Cleanup Operation After the Accident at the Chernobyl NPP],” (October 6, 1987) SSU, pp. 1–6

76 “Gostev on Compensating Accident Citizens,” TASS (September 19, 1986)

  1. 77  Tykhyy, p. 260
  2. 78  Central Intelligence Agency Office of Soviet Analysis,

p. 27

79 The Battle of Chernobyl, directed by Thomas Johnson, (Discovery Channel, 1996)

80 “Chernobyl: Chronology of a Disaster,” Nuclear Monitor 724 (March 11, 2011),

81 Ariel Zirulnick, “Chernobyl Disaster,” The Christian

Science Monitor (January 4, 2012), http://www.csmonitor. com/World/Europe/2011/0426/Chernobyl-disaster-four-ways- it-continues-to-have-an-impact/Zone-of-Alienation

82 Quoted in Grigori Medvedev, Chernobyl Notebook (Moscow: Novy Mir, 1989) p. 11

83 Quoted in Roush, p. 306
84 Oleynik
85 N.V. Karpan, “Trial at Chernobyl Disaster,”

Physicians of Chernobyl Association, 1987, http://www. trial.pdf

86 Valery Legasov, “My Duty Is to Tell About This…,” in Chernobyl Record: The Definitive History of the Chernobyl Catastrophe by Richard F. Mould (Bristol, U.K.: Institute of Physics Publishing, 2000) p. 317

  1. 87  Roush, p. 325
  2. 88  Quoted in Ibid., p. 325
  3. 89  Ibid., p. 57
  4. 90  Ibid., p. 325
  5. 91  Quoted in Ibid., p. 299
  6. 92  Siegelbaum
  7. 93  Mikhail Gorbachev, “Report to the Plenary Session of the

CPSU Central Committee,” Current Digest of the Soviet Press 37, no. 17 (May 22, 1985) pp. 1–8

94 Siegelbaum; Central Intelligence Agency Office of Soviet Analysis, p. vi


95 Gorbachev, “Report to the Plenary Session of the CPSU Central Committee,” pp. 1–8

96 Robert Heilbroner, “Reflections after Communism,” New Yorker (September 10, 1990) p. 91

97 Georgy E. Skorov, “Economic Reform in the USSR,” (working paper, World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University, August 1987)
pp. 9–14

98 “Military-Industrial Complex,” Encyclopedia Britannica (January 4, 2012)

99 Anatoly S. Chernyaev, My Six Years with Gorbachev
ed. Elizabeth Tucker, trans. Robert D. English (Pittsburgh: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000) p. 65; Mikhail Gorbachev, Memoirs (London: Doubleday Press, 1996) p. 215

  1. 100  Legasov, p. 314
  2. 101  Anders Aslund, “How Small Is the Soviet National

Income?,” in The Impoverished Superpower: Perestroika and the Soviet Military Burden ed. Henry S. Rowen and Charles Wolf (San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1990) p. 49; Raymond E. Zickel, “Soviet Union: A Country Study,” Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress (May 1989),

102 Zickel

103 Maksim Rylskii, “The Nuclear Power Industry in the Ukraine,” Soviet Life (February 1986) pp. 8–13

  1. 104  Quoted in Roush, pp. 312–319
  2. 105  Quoted in Ibid., p. 317
  3. 106  Legasov, p. 307
  4. 107  Roush, p. 316
  5. 108  Nuclear Energy Institute
  6. 109  2nd Directorate of the KGB attached to the Council of

Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR, pp. 1– 5; Vakulenko, “No. 2,” pp. 1–4

  1. 110  Quoted in Roush, p. 304
  2. 111  Quoted in Ibid., p. 307
  3. 112  Mikhail Gorbachev, “Turning Point at Chernobyl,”

Project Syndicate, April 14, 2006, http://www.project-syndicate. org/commentary/turning-point-at-chernobyl

  1. 113  Roush, pp. 329–360
  2. 114  Gorbachev, “Chernobyl 25 Years Later,” pp. 77–80
  3. 115  Philip Taubman, “Prominent Americans Hear

Gorbachev’s World Vision,” New York Times (December 8, 1986)

256 Callie Phui-Yen Hoon

116 Bernard Weinraub, “Reagan-Gorbachev Meeting Opens with Plans to Pursue Arms Pact and Rights Issues; Work Units Set Up,” New York Times (October 11, 1986); Weinraub, “Reagan-Gorbachev Meeting Opens with Plans to Pursue Arms Pact and Rights Issues; Work Units Set Up”

117 Isaac J. Tarasulo, ed., Gorbachev and Glasnost: Viewpoints from the Soviet Press (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1989); Anatoly Chernyaev, “Anatoly Chernyaev’s Notes from the Politburo Session, 8 May 1987,” trans. Svetlana Savranskaya, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, May 8, 1987, archive/files/gorbachev-demilitarization_f59533ed51.pdf

118 Dmitri Antonovich Volkogonov, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire: Political Leaders from Lenin to Gorbachev (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1998) p. 467

119 Steven M. Goldstein, “China in Transition: The Political Foundations of Incremental Reform,” The China Quarterly 144, Special Issue: China’s Transitional Economy (December 1995) pp. 1105–1131

120 Paul Gregory and Kate Zhou, “How China Won and Russia Lost,” Policy Review (January 2009) p. 43

121 Hannah Beech, Chengcheng Jiang, and Yongqiang Gu, “Big Brotherhood,” Time (October 22, 2012) pp. 1–6

122 Harry Hongyi Lai, “Contrasts in China and Soviet Reform: Sub-National and National Causes,” Asian Journal of Political Science 13, no. 1 (June 2005) p. 6

123 Hui Zhang, “How US Restraint Can Keep China’s Arsenal Small,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, no. 4 (July 13, 2012) pp. 73–82



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US History Rewritten or Ignored


(Editor: When totalitarian regimes wish to indoctrinate the rules people, they always rewrite history to cast themselves in the best possible light. The Left believes that America is a racist, sexist oppressive empire that must be totally transformed. Ergo, the left in academe wants to rewrite history. They want to rewrite history and they have found a champion in David Coleman, now President of the College Board and former author of The Common Core Standard. Coleman’s lasted gift is The Advanced Placement US History Framework (APUSH) a screed that transforms de Tocqueville’s American Exceptionalism to a quite unexceptional nation of racists and greedy capitalists).


By Kevin Gutzman

June 24, 2015
Since the 1960s, the academic history profession has changed markedly. Traditional fields such as military history, diplomatic history, intellectual history, religious history, and political history have been deemphasized, when not completely eliminated.

Whether in the typical college’s course offerings, on the typical academic conference’s panel program, in the books, articles, and talks they produce, or in the hiring of new colleagues, professors prefer to talk about “race, class, and gender.” That obsession now crowds out almost everything else in the field of history.

In general, the American past looks to such people like a lengthy symphony of class and racial–ethnic oppression with a leitmotif of sexism and occasional bows in the direction of contrary democratic or egalitarian principles. The only heroes of the story are the subject races, classes, and gender(s), besides the occasional critics of capitalism and Christianity, and anyone who can be cast as a spokesman for those who “should have been” aggrieved.

This is not a new development.

For example, when I took the first half of the two-semester survey in American history as an undergraduate at the University of Texas in the early 1980s, among the terms that never passed the professor’s lips were “Thomas Jefferson,” “Abraham Lincoln,” and “13th Amendment.” We did, however, spend several weeks hearing how the Salem Witchcraft Scare reflected oppression of women, blacks, and the poor in Puritan Massachusetts. One lecture was devoted to decrying the (then ongoing) Grenada invasion. The course was supposed to cover American history up to 1865.

Unfortunately, Americans generally pay little attention to these developments in the teaching of history. Few know that their young continue to be indoctrinated in hostility to America’s history, culture, and traditions.

One context in which trends in academic history seize center stage, however, is in discussion of school curricula. At present, that centers on the ongoing changes to high school Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) courses.

People are right to be skeptical of the new APUSH standards, promulgated by the College Board. They accelerate the trend toward making American history mainly about race, class, and gender grievances. Events are included only if they can be framed that way.

Of the nine members of the AP U.S. History Curriculum Development and Assessment Committee, four are history professors. All of those professors of are social historians—that is, experts in some aspect of race, class, and gender. Their approach has become dominant in colleges, and the story they want the best and the brightest of today’s American high schoolers to learn in their APUSH classes is one in which America is nothing more than a place of oppression and persecution, with little to offer to the story of humanity.

The Thematic Learning Objectives section states that APUSH courses will be organized under seven themes: “Identity; Work, exchange, and technology; Peopling; Politics and power; America in the world; Environment and geography—physical and human; [and] Ideas, beliefs, and culture.” All exam questions are to be based on “learning objectives” that are rooted in those themes.

What follow are scores of pages of references to various types of conflict among ethnic groups, among racial groups, between the “genders,” and between “capitalists” and “workers,” etc. The story is spun in the direction of white, male, capitalist, American, Christian guilt. Terminology familiar to readers of Marx or people who have listened to the typical Bernie Sanders speech pervades the entire account.

Thus, instead of noting that Americans or their English/British colonial forebears were/are amazingly wealthy and that improvements in living conditions pervade our society, one reads frequently of growing disparity of wealth. Instead of getting any sense that the legal framework of property rights and economic liberty helped most of the people improve their living standards, students repeatedly hear complaints about inequality.

As to Europeans’ interaction with Africans, one has no clue from these standards who sold the slaves to Europeans in the first place. It would not fit the narrative to state that slaves were captured and sold by other Africans. Instead, the standards vaguely say, “The abundance of land, a shortage of indentured servants, the lack of an effective means to enslave native peoples, and the growing European demand for colonial goods led to the emergence of the Atlantic slave trade.”

Turning to more recent history, the standard statist myths of the New Deal helping to end the Great Depression, the Supreme Court as partisan in striking down the first wave of New Deal legislation, various left-wing groups and developments as the only significant phenomena of the 1960s, and various avowed socialists and Communists as “reformers” are laid out in detail because they “fit” the project of promoting leftist tropes about our history.

“Capitalism” appears repeatedly and invariably with a negative connotation, but no one is ever called a “socialist.” Certainly the fact that economic freedom and American effort in tandem accounted for unprecedented prosperity has no place in the document.

Even in those portions of the document that touch on political events, materialist determinism is much in evidence. Thus, various inanimate factors repeatedly led to the development of parties and their policy choices; the significance of individual politicians is notably absent.

The glass is always half-empty, too. Rather than pointing to the historical novelty of republican government under written constitutions adopted by the people’s representatives and the fact that the principles underlying those innovations would lead to further gains for liberty, the standards say that “the new governments continued to limit rights to some groups.”

Why does all of this matter?

First, these standards aim at monopolizing the history curriculum. “Beginning with the May 2015 AP U.S. History Exams, no AP U.S. History Exam questions will require students to know historical content that falls outside this content outline.” Since AP teachers commonly teach to the test, that means that their students will get more or less the slanted message the standards convey—and nothing else.

Second, it makes the job of the college history professor who isn’t a devotee of the “race/class/gender grievance” approach to American history harder if many of the sharpest students have already been indoctrinated with the opinions that the standards convey.

I recently signed a letter in common with dozens of other scholars of traditional U.S. history complaining that these standards will further weaken the already misleading way American students are taught.

In response to our criticisms, College Board President David Coleman has stated that the guidelines will be revised to bring them into line with the idea that, as he says, “history courses should foster a rich understanding of positive and inspiring events, individuals and ideas—and should resist a disproportionate focus on instances when Americans have failed to live up to the ideals on which our nation was founded.”

However, because the standards as they now stand would prompt teachers to structure their classes so differently from the way Mr. Coleman now says they ought to be structured, I am skeptical that the thorough revision his statement hints at will be undertaken. In order for that to happen, he would have to select a more diverse group of scholars, including at least some representatives of traditional fields of historical study, to serve on his drafting committee.

I am not sanguine about that possibility.

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Nationally Recognized Teacher Removed for Reading Huck Finn

Mark Twain Banned Author

Mark Twain Banned Author


(Editor: Once again, educrats have made a breathtakingly wrong decision in removing Rafe Esquith from the class from reading a racy passage from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. Another teacher made a complaint, but the details of the complaint against reading Huckleberry Finn are unclear. “The Adventures of Huckeberry Finn” is a traditional reading staple and considered an American classic. Mr. Esquith has engaged prominent attorney Mark Geragos who stated: “When you quote Mark Twain you go to teacher jail, your reputation is trampled on and ignorant bureaucrats assume the role of judge and jury in the face of a baseless allegation which has already been found meritless by the California Teacher Credentialing Committee,” Geragos said. “Sadly, it is the students, their families and the community that suffers.)”

Los Angeles Times

Attorneys for a nationally recognized Los Angeles Unified teacher, who was removed from his classroom after allegations of misconduct, are issuing an ultimatum to district administrators: publicly apologize and let him return to work, or get sued.

Rafe Esquith, a longtime educator at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School who has written several books on teaching and received multiple awards for his work, has not been allowed to return to school since district officials launched an investigation in March.

Three months later, L.A. Unified officials have not clearly outlined the allegations against the popular teacher, said his attorney Mark Geragos. But Geragos said he learned that the investigation stemmed from a complaint by another teacher after Esquith read to a class a passage from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.



The passage, which is much longer, includes this section: “The duke and the king worked hard all day, setting up a stage and curtain and row of candles for footlights. … At last, when he’d built up everyone’s expectations high enough, he rolled up the curtain. The next minute the king came prancing out on all fours, naked. He was painted in rings and stripes all over in all sorts of colors and looked as splendid as a rainbow.”

Esquith was initially sent to a district administrative office, where instructors report to after they’ve been removed from their classrooms over allegations of wrongdoing. He is now home waiting for the results of the district’s investigation. The teachers union has criticized these so-called teacher jails, saying that instructors typically aren’t informed of the charges against them and that they are barred from their classrooms for far too long.

Geragos said the district shared the information with the state, which has already cleared Esquith.


“When you quote Mark Twain you go to teacher jail, your reputation is trampled on and ignorant bureaucrats assume the role of judge and jury in the face of a baseless allegation which has already been found meritless by the California Teacher Credentialing Committee,” Geragos said. “Sadly, it is the students, their families and the community that suffers.”

District officials declined to provide details, except to say that “the goal is to complete the investigation before school starts in August.”

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“He’s extremely distressed by the whole thing,” Geragos said. “He’s helped by the fact that there has been a deluge of support from parents, teachers and others. This is somebody who has given his whole life to teaching and being in the classroom and has been recognized as one of the most unbelievable teachers out there. It’s the personification of ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’”Esquith’s nonprofit, the Hobart Shakespeareans, had to cancel 12 performances of “The Winter’s Tale,” which were set to begin April 23.Parent Annie Han said she is not sure whether she will send her son to the Koreatown school next year, if Esquith does not return.


“As a parent, it’s devastating,” Han said. “I grew to respect and love him not just as teacher of my children but as a person. I know so many of his fifth graders cried every night because they were graduating and they were going to have to do that without him. “

Geragos gave L.A. Unified 10 days to respond to his ultimatum.

Esquith, who wrote three books, including “Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: the Methods and Madness inside Room 56” has received national recognition for his teaching abilities. He also has criticized what he considers to be too much testing and scripted teaching methods.

The allegations against Esquith were first reported by KCBS.


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