Religious Right ‘Experts’ Attempt To Rewrite Texas History Standards

Two Religious Right advocates have recommended sweeping changes to social studies and history standards in Texas, seeking to prod schools to teach that American government has a “biblical” basis.

 

David Barton, who runs the Aledo, Texas-based WallBuilders, was appointed to a curriculum advisory panel by right-wing members of the Texas Board of Education. The same faction also appointed Peter Marshall, a minister who heads a “Christian nation” outfit in Massachusetts, and Daniel Dreisbach, a professor of public affairs at American University in Washington, D.C. (See “Texas Tall Tale,” July-August 2009 Church & State.)

 

Neither Barton nor Marshall has legitimate credentials in this area, and Dreisbach is known as an aggressive critic of church-state separation. Barton is a self-appointed historian who holds a degree in Christian education from OralRobertsUniversity. He is the author of three books attacking separation of church and state.

 

In their recommendations, Barton and Marshall say the state’s social studies standards should be altered to emphasize Christianity and insist that America’s foundational documents support this view.

 

Barton recommends that the Declaration of Independence be taught as equal to the Constitution, even though the former is not a governance document. Students should learn, he says, that there is a God and a fixed moral law and that government exists to ensure God-given rights.

 

Barton also takes aim at James Madison, disputing the widely accepted view that he is the father of the Constitution.

 

Marshall echoes many of Barton’s comments, insisting that “the motivational role of the Bible” be discussed in classrooms. He also insists that constitutional provisions, such as the separation of powers, are “rooted in the Founding Fathers’ clear understanding of the sinfulness of man.”

 

Dreisbach makes a similar argument, insisting that limited government, federalism, separation of powers, the rule of the law and the three branches of federal government spring from the Founders’ “belief in the Reformed theological doctrine of humankind’s radical depravity and the attendant necessity to check mankind’s fallen nature.”

 

All three men criticize the standards for recommending that students learn about Anne Hutchinson, a colonial-era religious liberty pioneer who challenged theocratic Puritan supremacy in Massachusetts. Barton says she is not a “significant” colonial leader, and Marshall opines that her main accomplishment was “getting herself exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for making trouble.”

 

Barton and Marshall criticized the standards for mentioning labor leader Cesar Chavez. Barton also challenges the inclusion of Colin Powell as a significant African-American leader, and Marshall recommends dropping Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court.

 

Three other reviewers also examined the standards, at the behest of non-Religious Right members of the state board. They are all professors at Texas universities. One of them, Lybeth Hodges, a professor of history at Texas Women’s University, told the Wall Street Journal, “There appears to be too much politics in some of this.”

 

The recommendations issued by all six reviewers are being forwarded to a group of social studies teachers in Texas, who will examine them. The teachers are free to accept or reject the suggestions.

 

Their recommendations will then be forwarded to the Texas Board of Education for final action.