The Eyes of David Barton Are Upon You

Paul Harvey

All the freakin' live-long day, Texans.

Yes, it's time again for the culture wars in Texas, this time over the teaching in K-12 history texts. The politically appointed board breaks down along familiar lines: scholars in the field of history (imagine that) sit on the committee alongside others who are . . . umm. . . well, less qualified, shall we say, in the field of history. Heck, Lynne Cheney looks like Leopold Von Ranke compared to these guys. Nonetheless, like Forrest Gump and influenza, these guys seem to turn up everywhere.

The three reviewers appointed by the moderate and liberal board members are all professors of history or education at Texas universities, including Mr. de la Teja, a former state historian. The reviewers appointed by conservatives include two who run conservative Christian organizations: David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, a group that promotes America's Christian heritage; and Rev. Marshall, who preaches that Watergate, the Vietnam War and Hurricane Katrina were God's judgments on the nation's sexual immorality.

Watergate!? That's weird. Whatever. Don't they remember the Lynrd Skynrd line about Watergate in "Sweet Home Alabama"? Other highlights from Marshall's career as a public policy analyst and commentator are here. Read it and then ask, "does your conscience bother you? Tell me true."

Anyway, Marshall and company are leading the charge to sanitize the texts of icky stuff they don't like. A lot of that icky stuff happens to involve non-white people; there's a shocker. Here's my favorite:

Delete César Chávez from a list of figures who modeled active participation in the democratic process.

Two reviewers objected to citing Mr. Chávez, who led a strike and boycott to improve working conditions for immigrant farmhands, as an example of citizenship for fifth-graders. "He's hardly the kind of role model that ought to be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation," Rev. Marshall wrote.

Last time I checked, Mr Chavez was awfully religious, so you think Barton and Marshall would latch onto that. Is it because he's Catholic, or because he's a Latino? Or both?

Then there's Anne Hutchinson of colonial Massachusetts fame, airbrushed out of colonial history. Same goes for Thurgood Marshall -- gone! Shazam, Sgt. Carter!

If this was my home state of Oklahoma, no one would care -- too small-time. But this is Texas -- a market big enough to affect textbook writers everywhere (as has been the case previously with science standards).

Like star fullback Tim Riggins so eloquently intones in Friday Night Lights -- "Texas forever" . . . [tequila shot downed] . . . " No regrets." The Dillon Panthers got their Jumbotron (thanks to Buddy Garrity's greatest line ever, "Have you ever seen two people engaged on a Jumbotron?"), and Texans will get the textbooks they deserve. My guess is students will keep not reading them, regardless of who's in and who's out. On the other hand, standards matter, even if only symbolically, and besides, can't they find a cowboy or cowgirl or two to kick Marshall's butt once and for all -- is that too much to ask, Texas? All together now, on three: Clear minds -- full hearts -- can't lose.

UPDATE: A reader and recent visitor to Colorado Springs wrote and said the following: Focus on the Family pushes Barton's Drive Thru History America series, and I overheard an interesting conversation between a public school history teacher and his friend at Focus Welcome Centers. They were very enthusiastic about Drive Thru History America and talked about how he would be able to show it to his students in spite of it being a Christian product since it is not explicitly evangelizing. A little bit of sneaky preaching in the class room.


Brian Franklin said…
As a doctoral student in U.S. History, as a native Texan, and as a Christian, this junk by Barton/Marshall/blah bothers me to no end. I'm keeping my eye out for when they allow the public to start speaking on this in the Fall so that I can spread the word for my department to get involved.
Christopher said…
This should surprise me, but as a HS graduate of the TX public school system, it doesn't.

Delete Cesar Chavez and Anne Hutchinson from textbooks? Wow.
Mike Pasquier said…
I, too, graduated from a Texas public high school. I distinctly remember both teachers and students warning me of the world history teacher because she was (whisper) "an atheist." To this day, I have no idea if she was or wasn't an atheist. But I do know that I'm an historian, at least in part, because of her. Thanks, Mrs. Roach.

All of which is to say that members of curriculum boards are one thing, kids and teachers in classrooms are another. I would imagine that some rural, predominantly white Texas high schools (like mine) often teach Barton's version of the past, but certainly not all of them. Moreover, I would imagine that urban schools and West Texas rural schools (many of which have a majority Hispanic student body) receive a narrative of American history that would include Chavez regardless of state curriculum mandates.

These are just hunches. Does anyone have a more concrete analysis to offer?
Paul Harvey said…
Mike: Would be fun if someone actually has done a study on your questions. My hunch is that you're exactly right, partly based on my high school biology class in conservative rural Oklahoma where our very prim and proper Church of Christ teacher gave us a thorough grounding in evolution, because she knew it was her job to teach science and leave the culture wars outside her classroom. I bet that happens a lot. I tried to keep this post a little bit light-hearted because ultimately I doubt all this sturm und drang matters all that much. On the other hand, I hope the publicity will get some Texans fired up in defense of reasonable standards.
Mike Pasquier said…
Paul: I hope I didn't come across as too serious. I'm not usually one to defend Texas. I'd rather go to hell than to Texas (btw, this is a riff off of the supposed Crockett quote "You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas").

I failed to mention that my American history teacher was a Civil War/American Revolution/Texas Revolution reenactor, Catholic convert, history M.A., and spouse of a Mexican-American teacher. He once refused to call a student named "Lord" by his first name, since "There is only one Lord." Memories...

Anyways, I hope you're right about publicity leading to opposition against Barton's foolishness. It should make for an entertaining sideshow.
Brad Hart said…
Sounds like Barton, Marshall, et al. are creating an "imagined community." What say you, Dr. Harvey?

Isn't it amazing that the loudest voices against a "revision" of history are coming from the same people who have eliminated Cesar Chavez and Anne Hutchinson from the historical record. Hypocrisy at its best! Maybe Bertrand Russell was right when he wrote, "The problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so sure of themselves while wiser people are so full of doubts."

Part of me blames the actual historians in Texas for not speaking out on this. Now, I know that their voices tend to get muffled by the likes of Barton and his ilk, but come on! I hope people aren't simply standing by while Chavez and Hutchinson are left to the dogs. Hopefully somebody will oppose this nonsense before Texas history becomes nothing more than a tale of how the devout orthodox Evangelical founding fathers gave birth to a Christian nation with Jesus as its King, only to be destroyed by the EVIL Northern incursion of the South during the War of Northern Aggression."

Paul Harvey said…
Brad: Imagined community? Umm, more like a figment of their imagination :)

The War of Northern Aggression part in your comments is some nice snark -- good job!
Tom Van Dyke said…
Well, let's back off from the spin of "deleting" Cesar Chavez and lay out the controversy:

This is a pushback for minor but politically correct figures being slipped into the textbooks some years back, and it was some major figures of American history who got "deleted" in the first place.

Anne Hathaway is an interesting story, but does she get more play than Samuel Adams? Likely. I'd bet Sam Adams gets no play atall, and certainly not John Witherspoon or Roger Sherman.

There were 100s of labor figures as significant as Chavez. Why him? And is he as significant as that great American patriot who organized millions of voters and saved the Founding principles from the sewer of secular humanism...

I of course speak of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

I don't like defending David Barton, nor any of his allies. They seem to have made some dumb statements already. However, the politicization of schoolbook history cannot be laid at their feet. This is a reaction to it.

Being childless, I can't comment much on particulars except to say once I scooped up a history textbook here in California, and it read more like a secular Lives of the Saints, shaped by ethnicity and gender.
Brad Hart said…
Uh, Tom, are you speaking of Anne Hathaway the actress? Or Anne Hathaway the wife of William Shakespeare? Or perhaps you meant Anne Hutchinson??? =)

I agree that Samuel Adams doesn't get the attention he deserves. No argument there. However, I think you are downgrading the significance of Cesar Chavez a bit. He is a relevant figure who should be included in the history books. I fail to see how anybody benefits from having him removed.

I also have to strongly disagree with your claim that Jerry Falwell, "saved the founding principles from the sewer of secular humanism." If you respect Jerry Falwell that's fine. I don't begrudge your right to do so. However, I don't see any evidence that he "saved" any founding principles. As you would put it, "none atall."

Perhaps this is a reaction to secular "revision" but why fight fire with fire? It seems that Barton and his supporters are every bit as guilty of making the same efforts to "revise" history that they level against the "evil" secularist historians.

You can't prove a double negative.
Tom Van Dyke said…
Oooops. Hutchinson. Dang me.

And I was having a little evil fun with Rev. Falwell, just to set a few teeth on edge. But he was a provably bigger influence on American politics [and American social politics] than César Chávez, but has zero place in the politically correct history books.

And I'll argue that fact until Texas' cows and cattle all come home.

And I'll return to the original argument, that the historical revisionism took place several years ago, not with today's "deletion" of César Chávez.

Not a double negative atall, just Newton's Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Brad Hart said…
Awwww Tom! I was hoping that the Anne Hathaway comment was a Freudian slip! She sure makes for good eye least in my humble opinion!

Yeah, I agree that Falwell played a role in American social politics. No doubt about that. I guess I don't understand why any of these figures should be removed. I'm all for having Falwell's influence included in the textbooks. But again, why remove Chavez, Hutchinson, etc.? Clearly Barton and his minions have an agenda...and a bogus one at that.

I don't know if I agree with the notion that Barton was simply responding to the already ongoing historical revision of the secularists. I seriously doubt that his intentions were that pure. Instead I think Barton is simply advocating for his own agenda...yes, just like many of the devilish secularists.

Let's be clear on one thing: Barton is not advocating for objective or accurate history. Instead, he wants to see the evangelical Christian version of history become mainstream. And guess what everyone...the man is having quite a bit of success.

Are there secularists who are guilty of the same charges? Of course (Howard Zinn comes to mind). But none of this exonerates Barton. It's not an "equal and opposite reaction" to anything. Instead it’s just the same crap being preached from a different pulpit...and a bully pulpit at that.
Tom Van Dyke said…
Well, I want to make clear I'm not David Barton's asswipe. I think he finds a parade to stand in front of and is a leader by default, not merit.

He's no César Chávez or Jerry Falwell, that's for damnsure, although come to think of it, those men found parades to stand in front of themselves. And if you examine your history, so did MLK and Ronald Reagan.

And to be fair to the greatness of both those last two, those parades were both ready and needful of leadership.

Fact is, Anne Hutchinson isn't more or even equally significant in American history than Samuel Adams.

Yes, this is an "equal and opposite reaction" to the ethnic/gender revision of the textbooks of several years ago. I'd give Frederick Douglass a number of pages, but I bet Booker T. Washington gets little or no mention atall. We're talking politically correct revisionism and now the blowback.

So let's acknowledge that we have an ideological battle here. If César Chávez is being "deleted," Booker T. Washington was deleted long ago.

Anybody who wants to argue that César Chávez stands with anywhere near the stature of Booker T. Washington in American history, well, let's give it a go.
Russ said…
I'll bite. Frankly, if the goal is to understand New England culture in the 17th c., I've always thought we'd be better off with more Anne Bradstreet and less Anne Hutchinson. How Hutchinson became such a standard part of telling the Puritan story is worth some attention, I think. How many other groups in American history are studied almost exclusively through the lens of two exiled renegades? Besides, textbooks never get 17th c. antinomianism right.

If critics concerned with Chavez's place as a liberal icon were smart (I like hypotheticals, even unlikely ones), I'd suggest they'd push for more attention to Chavez, specifically is Catholic faith and his views on restricting immigration. Chavez certainly was "awfully" religious, but it would be hard to discover that in most textbook treatments.
Matt Sutton said…
Tom--the other thing that you fail to grasp here is that Jerry Falwell IS now a standard character in all the major US history textbooks--at least in the few schools that can afford to buy textbooks written in the last 10 years. NOBODY is asking that he be removed. Yet there are a lot of nut jobs trying to remove Chavez. Why? If we grant you Falwell, why do you still want to delete Chavez? It is the activist-revisionist-Barton types who are trying to whitewash US history.
Seth Dowland said…
I'm late to this discussion, but my own research does have something to say about why this whole battle is important. In the 1960s & 1970s, Texas was the largest state that produced a statewide "approved" list of textbooks for use in public schools. Mel & Norma Gabler, who hailed from Longview, Texas, realized this and set out to remove "filth" and "revisionist history" from public school textbooks. Because they showed up at the textbook adoption hearings year after year -- and because no opponents showed the same resolve -- they created a situation where textbook publishers began writing curricula that wouldn't set off any of the Gablers' trip-wires. In some cases publishers produced "Texas versions" of their textbooks, but more often they simply sanitized the books in such a way as to appease conservative critics like the Gablers. And thus New Yorkers and Californians bought textbooks with content geared to appease a couple of activists from Longview, Texas.

I'm not sure if Texas still demands that public school textbooks be drawn from a statewide "approved" list, but it's not surprising that Barton and Marshall chose to fight their battle in the Lone Star State. If they are successful in purging the icky parts of history from textbooks there, it could have ramifications nationwide.

See the Gablers' website here. Also, William Martin wrote an excellent article about the Gablers ("The Guardians Who Slumbereth Not") in the November 1982 issue of Texas Monthly (unfortunately not available online).
anne hathaway said…
As a woman, actress, and frequent star of historical dramas, I would like to object to the treatment I have received on this comment board. All you misogynist HIS-torians who diminish creative women such as myself to the level of "eye candy" defame yourselves and your profession.

Instead, I would like to suggest that I am indeed an historical figure worthy of inclusion in K-12 textbooks - every bit as worthy as Anne Hutchinson, and certainly more so than Jerry Falwell or Cesar Chavez - I was in "Princess Diaries" for cryin out loud, c'mon.
Anonymous said…
Anne Hathaway on our comment board. WOW!
Tom Van Dyke said…
Jerry Falwell is in the textbooks? What do they say?
Matt Sutton said…
Falwell is almost always discussed in the context of the New Right, the Moral Majority, and the election of Ronald Reagan.
Brad Hart said…
WOW! Anne Hathaway making a stop at this blog! Oh and I wasn't accusing you of being "eye candy," That was for the OTHER Anne Hathaway! =)

A commentator over at our blog mate the following observation of David Barton and his ilk, which I believe does a good job of illustrating why this is such a big deal. He noted that despite never mentioning his education credentials on his blog "Wallbuilders," David Barton did make the following delcaration:

"His exhaustive research has rendered him an expert in historical and constitutional issues."

An expert? That's funny, especially when we consider the fact that Barton made the following apology/excuse when ACTUAL historians confronted him about his crappy work:

"Therefore, we unilaterally initiated within our own works a standard of documentation that would exceed the academic standard and instead would conform to the superior legal standard (i.e., relying solely on primary or original sources, using best evidence, rather than relying on the writings of attorneys, professors, or historians)."

Except that many of those "primary sources" are proven fabrications.

If this man thinks he meets a "superior standard" then heaven help us!

And this man is going to have a say in what goes into history textbooks???
Tom Van Dyke said…
Well, I was using Jerry Falwell as an example of absurdity. One could tell the story of American history well without him. Cesar Chavez, too.

That must be one damn thick book if so many minor characters are included. Is Daily Kos in there?

As for Barton's errors, he's largely corrected them. He was a high school principal or something when he started, and made amateur errors, like taking quotes from books written in 1850 as true. It didn't occur to him that history books sometimes lie.
Brad Hart said…
I don't think the fundamental problem centers on whom or how many characters to include in history textbooks. You are right that not everyone can be given the attention they might deserve. The real issue is Barton's desire to see American history become the story of pious, Evangelical heroes who did not differ in one jot or tiddle from the beliefs of Barton himself (remember the whole "29 signers of the DoI were Evangelical Christians with seminary degrees" nonsense?). Barton’s brand of American history is the story of the founding fathers establishing America as Jesus’ footstool, a “Civil War” that had nothing to do with slavery (because it wasn’t really all that bad for Blacks), a progressive era where evil imperial storm troopers (let by the likes of Woodrow Wilson and others) endeavored to remove God from…well…everything, but who were fortunately thwarted a few centuries later by the likes of D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Glenn Beck and yes….DAVID BARTON! Because, hey, they are the ones who TRULY understand our nation’s heritage…not those damned historians!

I think you make an important observation, Tom. As you wrote, Barton made "amateur errors." Yep, you couldn't be more correct. That's because he's NOT the expert he passes himself off to be.
Tom Van Dyke said…
Well, I don't want David Barton writing the history books, but I don't think you can turn his early errors into a summary disqualification of his having input.

But the third conservative on the advisory board---not mentioned presumably because he's not a lightning rod---is Daniel Dreisbach, whose scholarly credentials seem easily as strong as the "liberals'."

So I say look at the facts and quit with the delegitimization.

The "conservatives" want more emphasis on source documents. Who can object to that?

They want more Billy Graham. I say, maybe Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening, but Billy Graham? Pass.

As for the rest of it, I think parents---the public---have a right to have input in the education of their children and are under no obligation to surrender it to the professional academic machine.

As you know, the professional academic establishment is thought by many to lean heavily to one side of the partisan divide---let's call it a worldview---and that suspicion is not totally unfounded.
Wayne Ratzlaff said…
If we had more people like Barton and Marshall in America today... well, we unfortunately would have more people like them.

As an FYI, someone sent me a video link to a Barton presentation that aired during the July 4th weekend. If anyone is interested in seeing how he constructs (i.e. bludgeons) American history, I am posting the link below.

Since many of you are historians, I need not comment on the historical content of his presentation. However, it is interesting to note how he plays a shell game by rapidly jumping between periods and quickly shifting topics. In this, it is stylistically similar to much of the right-wing literature that has been produced since the Second Red Scare.
Tom Van Dyke said…
In this, it is stylistically similar to much of the right-wing literature that has been produced since the Second Red Scare.

The Red Scare! McCarthyism!

Talk about shell games...
Paul M. said…

I share your distaste for David Barton. I can only wish that the commission had chosen true evangelical historians like Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, or George Marsden instead.

Nevertheless, although you are right to note that Barton and Marshall have an agenda (don't all historians have one?) which causes them to obscure important historical figures, I believe that your accustion of racism is unwarranted based on the information presented here.

Race-baiting contributes nothing to the discussion. Ad hominem attacks are not even necessary; Barton and Marshall are transparently foolish enough as it is! :-)
As a Christian, I admit finding some errors in Barton's work, most notably labeling Unitarian Framers as Christians; John Adams comes to mind, and ignoring the Creeds, and Synods of Christian history. If he claims to be Orthodox, he should stick to it.

Per the "29 signers of the DoI claim" Someone should ask Barton, when did the seminaries become colleges to justify his claim?
Will Howard said…
Amid all this attention to high principles, let us also recognize that the attempt to ban Anne Hutchinson from the textbook also skillfully serves Governor Perry's campaign to side-wisedly smear his chief and very strong opponent in the next Republican primary, US Senator Kay Hutchison.
jimmiraybob said…
The following is a general definition for seminary that seems in accord with others that I found on-line:

Etymology: Middle English, seedbed, nursery, from Latin seminarium, from semin-, semen see Date:1542
1: an environment in which something originates and from which it is propagated [a seminary of vice and crime]
2 a: an institution of secondary or higher education
2 b: an institution for the training of candidates for the priesthood, ministry, or rabbinate

As to “when did the seminaries become colleges,” why ask Barton? Here’s a brief rundown of three major institutions of higher learning of 18th century America:

The Harvard Guide
Harvard College was established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and was named for its first benefactor, John Harvard of Charlestown, a young minister who, upon his death in 1638, left his library and half his estate to the new institution. Harvard's first scholarship fund was created in 1643 with a gift from Ann Radcliffe, Lady Mowlson.

During its early years, the College offered a classic academic course based on the English university model but consistent with the prevailing Puritan philosophy of the first colonists. Although many of its early graduates became ministers in Puritan congregations throughout New England, the College was never formally affiliated with a specific religious denomination. An early brochure, published in 1643, justified the College's existence: "To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches.

Yale University – About Yale
Yale’s roots can be traced back to the 1640s, when colonial clergymen led an effort to establish a college in New Haven to preserve the tradition of European liberal education in the New World. This vision was fulfilled in 1701, when the charter was granted for a school [the Collegiate School (Oviatt, 1916)] “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences [and] through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State.” In 1718 the school was renamed “Yale College” in gratitude to the Welsh merchant Elihu Yale, who had donated the proceeds from the sale of nine bales of goods together with 417 books and a portrait of King George I.

More here (Edwin Oviatt, 1916. The Beginnings of Yale (1701-1726)).

A Handbook for Administrative and Support Staff
Milestones: A Short History of Princeton University

Princeton University was founded in 1746 as the College of New Jersey. It was the result of a charter issued by John Hamilton, acting governor of the province, to the College’s board of trustees, whose members were leaders in the Presbyterian Church. They organized the College to train students, “different sentiments in religion not withstanding,” a policy that shaped the character of the school.


In 1896, the College of New Jersey became Princeton University.

To have attended any of these colleges/universities (seminaries) does not imply religious training toward ministry. No doubt there were seminaries devoted to this endeavor.
JRB:As to “when did the seminaries become colleges,” why ask Barton? Here’s a brief rundown of three major institutions of higher learning of 18th century America:

Your answer is precisely why I brought it up. Not to prop Barton, but he may believe those colleges had changed their curriculum.

No doubt Barton knowlingly or not, has an agenda, but Noll, and the others aren't infallible either.

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