Ever since Governor Rick Perry’s (R-TX) appointment of Gail Lowe as chair of the worst and most dangerous state Board of Education ever, and the almost inevitable choice of Christian nationalist history revisionist David Barton as an “expert” to review the state’s social studies curriculum, I’ve been getting a stream of emails from people who know me as the arch-rival of Barton, wondering why I haven’t written anything on the subject.
Well, I’ve desperately been trying to find the time to get something out on this, but have just been up to my eyeballs in work for my job with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a job that, ironically, I ended up in two years ago because of the discovery of a David Barton essay on the “myth” of separation between church and state in the Junior ROTC core curriculum American history textbook. Then, Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, deluged with media requests since the Ensign and Sanford sex scandals exposed the Family’s “C Street” cabal to a wider audience, asked MRFF president Mikey Weinstein if he could borrow me to help with some further research on certain members of the Family, the full results of which will be breaking soon. So, I’ve just been busy as hell, and hearing and reading about the Texas BOE lunacy and the appointment of Barton, but not being able to find any time to write about it, has put me at serious risk of my head exploding.
I still don’t have much time to spend on this, but I do want to make a few things clear about David Barton.
First of all, very little of what I’ve been reading about the Texas BOE seems to convey just how dangerous Barton really is. His agenda for the teaching of American history is not merely a somewhat more religious “interpretation” of history, as some are describing it — it’s an all out, lie packed, completely revised, Christian nationalist version of history, designed to muster support for a very clear political agenda.
Second, I’ve read much about Barton’s utter lack of credentials to be in any way involved in the development of new textbooks — textbooks that, as Barton has been gloating about on his radio show for months now, will not only be used in Texas, but, because of the economic realities of the textbook publishing business, will find their way into the public schools of all the states. (California, with the largest state population, has always been the other state, along with Texas, the second most populous state, to steer the content of new textbooks, but, because of its current economic crisis, California is out of the picture this time around, leaving the Texas board of wackaloons as the only voice in what will and won’t appear in the next wave of textbooks.)
Now, getting back to Barton’s credentials, or lack thereof, many people have been pointing out that he has no degree in history. His educational credentials consist of a B.A. in religious education from Oral Roberts University, and an honorary doctorate from Pensacola Christian College. But, what bothers me far more than his lack of a history degree is his pumped-up bio, in which he claims to have been been involved in the development of the history/social studies standards not just for Texas, but also for California and other states. Well, like most of his historical claims, this claim isn’t quite true. In reality, Barton’s “involvement” in developing curriculum standards for any other state besides Texas has consisted of nothing more than being enlisted by some conservative member of that state’s standards commission or legislature — someone who shares Barton’s agenda — as an “expert” for their side. It does not mean that he was appointed by that state, and, thankfully, he hasn’t actually been able to succeed in screwing up any textbooks — at least not yet.
In the latest issue of Church & State, the magazine of Americans United (AU), Rob Boston explained Barton’s California claim:
In 1998, a conservative member of the California Academic Standards Commission appointed Barton to an advisory position, asking the Texan to critique proposed social studies/history standards. From that perch, Barton attacked the portion of the standards that discussed the development of religious freedom, trying to remove every reference to separation of church and state.
He almost pulled it off. Commission members, unfamiliar with Barton’s agenda, seemed open to adopting his suggestions. They changed course only after intervention by Americans United’s Sacramento Chapter, AU’s national office and others.
Another example of Barton’s grossly exaggerated role in a state’s curriculum development involves everyone’s favorite nut of a congresswoman, Michele Bachmann. Back in September, when Barton had Bachmann on his radio show — introducing her as “a rock solid lady,” and a “real class act” — he brought up his previous encounters with her, including this:
As a matter of fact, I worked with her on history standards up in Minnesota — doing some history legislation, and making sure that they could not censor religious references from history books.
So, what was Barton referring to here? Well, back in 2005, when Bachmann was still a senator in the Minnesota legislature, she and some of her fellow legislative wingnuts had bought — hook, line, and sinker — the wildly distorted story and propaganda about California banning the Declaration of Independence in public schools because it mentioned a creator. So, although existing Minnesota history standards already contained the use of the Declaration and other historical documents with religious content, Bachmann co-sponsored a completely unnecessary piece of legislation to “permit” these same documents that were already being used in the state’s schools to be used in the state’s schools, actually citing the bogus story about California banning the Declaration of Independence as a reason her unnecessary legislation was of the utmost importance. Barton’s big role in all this? Well, he appeared before the Minnesota Senate Education Committee in support of Bachmann’s legislation. Similar legislation had already been introduced by Minnesota state representative Mark Olson in 2001, and Olson, during a House Education Policy Committee hearing on his bill, had also brought in David Barton.
Of course, without the real explanations of the circumstances surrounding Barton’s role in these state history education related proceedings, and relying only on the deceptive way in which Barton describes his involvement, anyone unfamiliar with him would think he sounds like somebody who has lots of legitimate experience in developing history curriculums and is sought out by other states for this expertise.
But, the biggest problem with Barton meddling with our country’s textbooks is not his lack of qualifications. It’s the fact that he’s a big fat liar who will distort, misrepresent, and even fabricate historical events to further his Christian nationalist agenda and political ideology.
I’ve written so much on the subject of Barton’s historical revisionism, and debunked so many of his lies, that there’s no need for me to get into any particular lies here. If anyone wants to see just how bad this guy really is, and why those of us who already know how bad he is are so concerned about his appointment, I urge you to read a few of the things I’ve written and get a little taste of just what our country’s history textbooks may end up looking like.
One is the series I wrote last year when Rep. Randy Forbes introduced H. Res. 888, a resolution for an annual religious heritage week. This resolution, reintroduced in the current congress as H. Res. 397, is packed with a seventy-five “Whereas” clause litany of Christian nationalist historical revisionism. This is what David Barton would like to see taught in our public schools. In fact, Forbes got much of the material for this resolution straight from his pal Barton.
The other is a series I wrote a few years ago about the history revisionism in the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS) curriculum. This curriculum, already being taught in thousands of our public schools, has David Barton on its Advisory Board, and contains many of the lies from his books. Unbelievably, it even contains fabricated quotes that Barton himself, after being busted on them, started advising his minions not to use. But this didn’t stop him from knowingly reviving these fabricated quotes in this public school curriculum.
For those who don’t have the time or inclination to do a lot of reading, I also made a little video about Barton and his lies after he trashed me on his radio show earlier this year.
For those who do have the time and inclination to do a lot of reading, there are links to a bunch of other articles about Barton, as well as several free chapters of my book, Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History, on my website.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this report mistakenly said that Gov. Perry appointed members to the Texas Board of Education. Board members are elected not appointed. Gov. Perry is responsible, however, for appointing the board’s chairperson. We thank reader Alexa for alerting us to the error.
Chris Rodda is the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History.