Saturday, January 30, 2010

Washington Monthly On the Texas Education Controversy

See their article by Mariah Blake entitled "Revisionaries" here.

A taste:

Nevertheless, the allegations drummed up public outrage, and in April the board voted to stop the writing teams’ work and bring in a panel of experts to guide the process going forward—“expert,” in this case, meaning any person on whom two board members could agree. In keeping with the makeup of the board, three of the six people appointed were right-wing ideologues, among them Peter Marshall, a Massachusetts-based preacher who has argued that California wildfires and Hurricane Katrina were God’s punishment for tolerating gays, and David Barton, former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party. Both men are self-styled historians with no relevant academic training—Barton’s only credential is a bachelor’s degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University—who argue that the wall of separation between church and state is a myth.

When the duo testified before the board in September, Barton, a lanky man with a silver pompadour, brought along several glass display cases stuffed with rare documents that illustrate America’s Christian heritage, among them a battered leather Bible that was printed by the Congress of the Confederation in 1782, a scrap of yellowing paper with a biblical poem scrawled by John Quincy Adams, and a stack of rusty printing plates for McGuffey Readers, popular late-1800s school books with a strong Christian bent. When he took to the podium that afternoon, Barton flashed a PowerPoint slide showing thick metal chains. “I really like the analogy of a chain—that we have all these chains that run through American history,” he explained in his rapid-fire twang. But, he added, in the draft social studies standards, the governmental history chain was riddled with gaps. “We don’t mention 1638, the first written constitution in America … the predecessor to the U.S. Constitution,” he noted as a hot pink “1638” popped up on the screen. By this he meant the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which called for a government based on the “Rule of the Word of God.” Barton proceeded to rattle off roughly a dozen other documents that pointed up the theocratic leaning of early American society, as the years appeared in orange or pink along the length of the chain.

Barton’s goal is to pack textbooks with early American documents that blend government and religion, and paint them as building blocks of our Constitution. In so doing, he aims to blur the fact that the Constitution itself cements a wall of separation between church and state. But his agenda does not stop there. He and the other conservative experts also want to scrub U.S. history of its inconvenient blemishes—if they get their way, textbooks will paint slavery as a relic of British colonialism that America struggled to cast off from day one and refer to our economic system as “ethical capitalism.” They also aim to redeem Communist hunter Joseph McCarthy, a project McLeroy endorses. As he put it in a memo to one of the writing teams, “Read the latest on McCarthy—He was basically vindicated.”

On the global front, Barton and company want textbooks to play up clashes with Islamic cultures, particularly where Muslims were the aggressors, and to paint them as part of an ongoing battle between the West and Muslim extremists. Barton argues, for instance, that the Barbary wars, a string of skirmishes over piracy that pitted America against Ottoman vassal states in the 1800s, were the “original war against Islamic Terrorism.” What’s more, the group aims to give history a pro-Republican slant—the most obvious example being their push to swap the term “democratic” for “republican” when describing our system of government. Barton, who was hired by the GOP to do outreach to black churches in the run-up to the 2004 election, has argued elsewhere that African Americans owe their civil rights almost entirely to Republicans and that, given the “atrocious” treatment blacks have gotten at the hands of Democrats, “it might be much more appropriate that … demands for reparations were made to the Democrat Party rather than to the federal government.” He is trying to shoehorn this view into textbooks, partly by shifting the focus of black history away from the civil rights era to the post-Reconstruction period, when blacks were friendlier with Republicans.

Barton and Peter Marshall initially tried to purge the standards of key figures of the civil rights era, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall, though they were forced to back down amid a deafening public uproar. They have since resorted to a more subtle tack; while they concede that people like Martin Luther King Jr. deserve a place in history, they argue that they shouldn’t be given credit for advancing the rights of minorities. As Barton put it, “Only majorities can expand political rights in America’s constitutional society.” Ergo, any rights people of color have were handed to them by whites—in his view, mostly white Republican men.


Tom Van Dyke said...

In keeping with the makeup of the board, three of the six people appointed were right-wing ideologues,

Actually, one of the three "ideologues" was Daniel Dreisbach, an accredited historian, whom the article doesn't mention.

Neither does the article mention some of the equally idiotic proposals of the "liberal" side, like including Ted Kennedy, nor of any of the legitimate complaints, of which there were a number.

A shame you couldn't find a balanced article for our mainpage, Jon, but I suppose that's because there probably aren't any.

I posted links to the original documents here in hopes that someone would actually read them instead of taking the press's representation of the controversy.

Because this stilted reportage made me angry when I read it a week ago at Fea's place, which is why I was moved to post the original documents.

Anyone who bases their opinion on this Washington Monthly story is as big a sheep as anyone accused of following Barton.

bpabbott said...

What happened to; "David Barton sucks, so help be God"?


Kidding aside, I'm unfamiliar with the transgressions of Washington Monthly. Especially with regards to this article I'm interested in what they got wrong.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Clearly not interested enough to do any further reading on your own, Ben. ;(

The "David Barton Sucks" was the return of a previous observation that we might as well retitle the blog that, since it takes up so much of our air.

Pinky said...

Tom continues to press his bias regardless of the gist of the article to which one might think he is responding. He shows himself up as a bookish ideologue. Even so, I like him. He's a good guy at heart.
What else is new around here? He seems wedded--at the core--to Roman Catholic Politics. Not that there is anything wrong with his or anyone else's being there. They have a perfect right.
The point of this article seems to be more about the efforts becing made in the LONE STAR STATE founded by Virginians to secure the place for Religionists as the actual founders of the United States of America.
I think the article points up the potential danger we face in allowing ANY religion to have a legal say in our government's operations or laws. Do people who believe to the opposite have a right to press their points? Absolutely; but, they do present the rest of us with a danger.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Tom continues to press his bias regardless of the gist of the article to which one might think he is responding.

Heh. The article is clearly biased [or very badly reported] in its omission of Dreisbach and lumping him in [unnamed] with "ideologues," yet I get the blame for bias.

Did you read the original documents, Pinky? No, I didn't think so.

Pinky said...

Of course I didn't read the original document. I have more important things to do. But, I don't have to have a doctorate to get the gist of something.
Most things carry some bias or another; but, should we judge content on that basis alone?
Whatever the bias was, the point was about the Lone Star state and of what gets to pass for reality there.
Your focus is on a side issue.

Tom Van Dyke said...

My focus is on the relevant issue to this blog.

So in other words, Pinky, you have time to type opinions, but no time to make sure they're informed opinions.

I happened to read all the source documents, and there was plenty of idiocy on both sides, but the article picks out only the worst from only one side.

It's entirely proper for me to point that out, since I actually did the homework. And if you wish to remain underinformed but give your opinion anyway, well, you just defended your right to do so, and readers will take your comments for what they are. Peace.

Pinky said...

I have no problem with that, Tom.
As far as being "underinformed" is concerned. I know the difference in that and being "over-informed". There's a point where we draw conclusions beyond which confusion seems to rule the day. An example is that this blog hasn't figured out whether America was created to be a Christian nation or not.
At some point it's a good idea to move beyond ideological questioning.
I am not ashamed of my opinions and you don't seem to be ashamed of yours. That seems healthy to me.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You're equating your being "underinformed" with my being "overinformed" [whatever that is]?

Rock on, Pinky.

Pinky said...

We watched Great Expectations on the tube last night.
A great story well done.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I linked to the article, btw, simply because it was written in the Washington Monthy, a very prestigious publication.

Brad Hart said...

Reason number 394,573,238,321 why fringe partisan history is NOT history.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Prestigious? Even if true---and it's not---Jon, please don't tell me you couldn't detect the article's bias. It's a hatchet job. The Bad Guys are so cartoonish even Pinky can get it.

And whatever credibility as actual news reporting WM might have had under Michael Kinsley, it's long gone.

"The progressive must-read is a magazine called Washington Monthly."---James Carville

From the header on their own damn website. Geez.

bpabbott said...

Tom, its not a problem of interest, its a problem of time.

Regarding your response to the article, I think it would be constructive to document the errors, misrepresentations, omissions, etc (i.e. the idiocies).

Unsubstantiated assertions of bias don't tell me anything about the article ... it does communicate something about your bias regarding the author and/or article.

Whether your bias is justified I can't tell ... because you've chosen not to share your reasons.

In any event, I did skim the article and agree with you qualification that it contains ample idiocy.

McLeroy: “Evolution is hooey.”

McLeroy again: "But we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan—he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes."

There are many specific assertions in the article, but without references I can't judge their accuracy. However, the general claim that TX has significant influence over the textbooks used in all states is well established (for example).

That the politics of selecting textbooks for US history and Biology is significantly charged in Texas is also something I'm aware of ... some examples are here, here, and here.

jimmiraybob said...


Have you read Dreisbach’s Report to the Texas Education Agency?

To paint with a broad brush, Dreisbach lobbies for a considerable beefing up of the religious content in the TEKS. While I have no problem with introducing a broad concept of the role of religion prior to and during the revolution/founding period, his commentaries and recommendations are heavily Reform Protestantism. Did I mention heavily?

I would think that this would be problematic to the Roman Catholic*, Jewish and Morman communities (and I'm sure that I left someone out) and threatens to dredge up the rampant anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic history during the founding period as well. This doesn't even take into account marginalizing the non-Christian position. If half of what he suggests is included there should be countervailing content to provide context, covering the Zinnianesque (darker) side of this history or else it becomes mere proselytizing for a specific religious sensibility.

I'm not arguing that much of what he's looking for in the way of religious v. secular balance isn't valid but I strongly object to laying it on so thick at the K-12 level. Generally, American introductory (survey) history at at the college/university level (junior to sophomore years) already expand the role and influence of religion and the various sects within the various colonies.

More specific attention at the college/university is also given in classes on religious studies, general humanities, literature and philosophy.

What Dreisbach and the other two advocates for inserting more religion (Christian Protestant Reformed) into the public K-12 classrooms do is to increase the burden to the teachers in the way of introducing complex and controversial (and I'm just thinking intra-sectarian) material to students that are still working on developing of critical thinking skills.

Much of what they're asking the public school system, a system that has to serve a very broad base of religious and non-religious sensibilities, is to introduce a very narrow slice of the religious story; one that is available through family and church interaction.

If Dreisbach, whatshisname, and the other guy get enough of what they want into the TEKS, the first thing that the K-12 kids should be required to Learn/know is: 1) what makes a Christian a Christian (that should keep them busy for a few decades), and 2) what defines a nation (Biblical and non-Biblical). To provide valuable context they should also study the effects of Christian persecution of other Christians within the colonies as a crucible for developing the need for religious tolerance and an emerging secularism in government.

And then to provide some balance to teaching the "Hebrew commonwealth" more attention should also be given to developing an understanding of the contrasting contemporaneous theistic and non-theistic Greco-Roman ideas and the Pagan contributions to Semitic religions and later Christianity via Aristotle and Plato and others (and their role in defining Christian monotheistic theology). Oh yeah, Jefferson's Bible slicing and professed Epicuruanism, one of those non-theistic Greco-Roman traditions, shouldis has a direct relation to how at least one founding father viewed the pathway to virtue. Heck, let's throw in some Hammurabi law code and Egyptian Book of the Dead while we're at it.

One of the reasons that K-12 education is so generic is that once you start adding in one group's preferences (especially religious) then you have to deal with the other 100-1000 groups that are offended.

*I visited a blog the other day that spooked me a bit - I was afraid they'd somehow sense my early Catholic association and send out a hit squad :). I'm no expert on sect differentiation but it seemed very Calvinistic and very sola sciptura. I didn't know Protestants still said the things about Roman Catholics that they were saying. It makes Dispathches' comments seem Sunday-school like.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Unsubstantiated assertions of bias

But I did substantiate it, Ben, with the omission of Dreisbach and that the article picked out the worst of only one side. If you think you're informed on the controversy as a result of reading the article, I caution you that you're not. That was my objection to giving such a partisan hit-piece on our mainpage.

Of course, I did, JRB. i said I did my homework and posted links so others could discuss this intelligently.

Which unhappily nobody else took me up on, although that hasn't stopped them from entering opinions anyway.

But happily, you have taken me up on it.

I happen to agree with your assessment of Dreisbach's TEKS recommendations. However, you're the first person I've seen---including journalists---who seem to have actually read what the controversy is, and can speak substantively.

However, we still don't know exactly how Zinn-like the Texas curriculum currently is and how completely Christianity is erased. And I found a number of howlers on the "liberal" side, like the one guy who wanted to turn the curriculum into some sort of ethnic Book of Saints.

Generally, American introductory (survey) history at at the college/university level (junior to sophomore years) already expand the role and influence of religion and the various sects within the various colonies.

More specific attention at the college/university is also given in classes on religious studies, general humanities, literature and philosophy.

I see no evidence of that, JRB, here on this blog or elsewhere on the internet. Most folks think the Founders were deists. So, apparently, do many historians.

If you remember our recent visit from two community college history instructors, they were clueless on America's religious history.

Totally fucking clueless, so they turned tail and ran. I'm told one is a confirmed member of the Zinn cabal.

The truth is hard to locate here, but I can say with confidence that the article contains only a fraction of the whole truth of the controversy.

Now, I'm sorry that Barton and Marshall were included as "experts." My own suspicion is that the curriculum swung pretty far to the left, and B&M are the opposite but equal swing of the pendulum. It's a pity that the issue ends up in the hands of "advocates," but that's politics, and I can say if the academy [like our recent visitors] did its job and played it more straight, Barton would have to make his living some other way.

jimmiraybob said...

(and I'm just thinking intra-sectarian)

I meant to write inter-sectarian but then again, given the tendency toward intra-sectarian dissent leading to splitting, maybe I wasn't too off.

bpabbott said...

Tom, I didn't find anything in the article to be conceptually new to me.

I've been aware of the political controversy surrounding the adoption of textbooks in TX for more than a decade.

However, I've not dug into the details, and am not familiar with the identities of the leaders (for either side).

Regarding Daniel Dreisbach, do you refer to his report titled "K-12 Social Studies Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills" or some other report?

I've downloaded that and will read through it as my free time permits.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Tom, I didn't find anything in the article to be conceptually new to me.

TPM Muckraker and Think Progress, Ben? All you do is prove my point. Oy.

bpabbott said...

Re: "TPM Muckraker and Think Progress, Ben? All you do is prove my point. Oy"

Tom, I picked out those two on purpose to illustrate that the selection of text books by TX is politically charged. I didn't do so to convey a political opinion.

My opinion is that it is unfortunate that politicians are more interested in selecting textbooks that suite their politics than selecting textbooks that suite the purpose of educating our youth.

Btw, I don't think it proper etiquette to take unrelated comments and paste them together to construct a strawman.

Regarding Daniel Dreisbach, may day didn't provide me the opportunity to read through this thoughts.

I did come across a list of Social Studies Expert Reviewers on the Texas Education Agency's website.

There are essays by David Barton, Jesus Francisco de la Teja, Daniel L. Dreisbach, Lybeth Hodges, Jim Kracht, Peter Marshall.

That's a rather diverse group. As time permits, I hope to read all their thoughts.

Hattie said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Tom Van Dyke said...

That's good, Ben. I posted links to the essays weeks ago and again on in the first comment on this thread. So please excuse my getting annoyed above.

bpabbott said...

My apologies Tom. I've been unusually busy for the last several weeks. I thought I kept up with reading the blog, but it is now obvious I've missed some relevant comments and posts.

I use Google Reader to track comments and posts. It appears I overlooked one of your posts and one of our comments (and perhaps more).

Regarding this subject I think your prior post is a more appropriate location for general comments regarding the review of the TX Social Studies Curriculum. So if I'm motivated to comment, I'll take it there.

If I decide to comment on Barton, I may cross post here ;-)

Tom Van Dyke said...

OK, Ben, but I doubt anyone will be going back to the original post.

And as you may have noticed above, in agreeing with JRB, I meself don't exactly endorse the conservative suggestions.

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