Vol. 7 #21, May 18, 2001


by Bruce Craig of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History


Over the last couple of weeks, the House and Senate have been working on separate bills designed to implement aspects of President Bush's education reform plan. Both the House and Senate bills focus largely on proposals relating to school performance, student achievement (based on some type of nationwide testing), and reading programs. On May 10, 2001, in the Senate version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (S. 1), an amendment offered by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) to authorize $100 million for history education in FY-2002 was agreed to. Senate Amendment #402 (see Congressional Record-Senate May 10, 2001; pages S4807-4812) reads as follows: "Section 9201. Grants for the Teaching of Traditional American History as a Separate Subject.

(a) In General. There are authorized to be appropriated $100,000,000 to enable the Secretary to establish and implement a program to be known as the "Teaching American History Grant Program" under which the Secretary shall award grants on a competitive basis to local educational agencies--

1. to carry out activities to promote the teaching of traditional American history in schools as a separate subject; and

2. for the development, implementation, and strengthening of programs to teach American history as a separate subject (not as a component of social studies) within the school curricula, including the implementation of activities to improve the quality of instruction and to provide professional development and teacher education activities with respect to American history.

(b) Required Partnership. A local educational agency that receives a grant under subsection (a) shall carry out activities under the grant in partnership with 1 or more of the following:

1. An institution of higher education.

2. A non-profit history or humanities organization.

3. A library or museum."

In his floor statement when introducing the amendment, Byrd reminisced about his education in a two-room schoolhouse 79 years ago. He recalled learning about Nathan Hale and how Hale's heroic story influenced his life. Byrd recalled how he memorized his history lessons by the light of an oil lamp and he remembered the importance of good books and teachers and how they had a formative influence on him. "So I say today we need good history books and good teachers so that the boys and girls of today will find their heros among the early Americans who built this country." In offering the $100 million "authorizing" amendment, Byrd stated his intention was to continue the current $50 million Teaching American History Grant program that he initiated in the FY 2001 Department of Education appropriation bill. "That program is going, it is on going, it is moving."

Byrd explained to his colleagues what he meant by the teaching of "traditional" American history: "An unfortunate trend of blending history with a variety of other subjects to form a hybrid called "social studies" has taken hold in our schools. I am not against social studies, but I want history. If we are going to have social studies, that is OK, but lets have history. Further, the history books provided to our young people, all too frequently, gloss over the finer points of America's past. My amendment provides incentives to help spur a return to the teaching of traditional American history."

After Byrd had finished speaking, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MASS) rose to thank the Senator from West Virginia for his amendment and for his recollections. Kennedy reiterated the importance of having good history books and informed the Senate that David McCullough's new book on John Adams and Thomas Jefferson was soon to be released. Kennedy also recalled how McCullough, some years back, played an important role in seeing to it that important historical papers discovered at the Longfellow House in Cambridge, Massachusetts, relating to the Revolutionary War were preserved. Kennedy also stated that he hoped that the $100 million would increase student's knowledge of the Constitution. Senator James Jeffords (R-VT) also spoke in favor of the amendment. Following his comments the amendment was agreed to.

While the language of the Senate bill authorizes the appropriation of funds for Teaching American History grants, at the present time, the House version of the education bill does not contain similar language. In fact, some House Republicans have vowed to strip the Senate bill of various expensive Democratic amendments when the two education bills (once they pass their respective Houses) are conferenced and reconciled. Because of Senator Byrd's influential position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, the prospect of having a $100 million appropriation for the continuation and expansion of the present Department of Education history grant program seems good.