Religious Right Cowboy David Barton’s Fixin’ To Rewrite The Social Studies Textbooks In The Lone Star State (And Maybe Your State Too)
When the Texas State Board of Education issued a list of proposed “experts” to sit on a social studies curriculum panel, one name immediately leaped out to defenders of church-state separation: David Barton.
The panel is supposed to consist of academics and others with specialized knowledge to assist the board in drafting new social studies standards for public schools across the state. The selection of Barton, a Religious Right propagandist who for years has pushed a fundamentalist “Christian nation” view of American history, is a sure sign that trouble lurks ahead.
– headline and opening paragraphs of the cover article in Church and State.
Of the six “experts” appointed to advise the Texas SBOE, three are legitimate scholars selected for their expertise, and three were selected by right-wing board members for their commitment to destroying church-state separation. Barton is the most egregious of these. Critical assessment of his work is documented on Wikipedia (including an appraisal by long-time Republican (now Democrat) lawyer, prosecutor, and legislator Arlen Specter, who has served as chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary).
This is the same SBOE that earlier this year passed new standards for “science” that include provisions aimed at forcing textbook publishers to include nonscientific content to undermine the teaching of evolutionary science.
The fifteen-member Board is split roughly in half. Under the chairmanship of Donald McLeroy, the right-wing ideologues have prevailed not only with the science standards, but also with the ELAR standards, standards for Bible classes in the public schools, and other matters. McLeroy’s outrageous conduct as Chair (most notably with the ELAR standards) resulted in the failure of his renomination by Gov. Rick Perry to be confirmed by the Texas Legislature. As of now, the rumors are that Perry will appoint Cynthia Dunbar — who, in her book One Nation Under God, has called public schools a “tool of perversion,” “unconstitutional” and “tryannical” — as the next chair of the State Board of [Public] Education.
Back to the social studies standards
Besides the attempt to teach against church/state separation, you can bet that the right-wing faction will attempt to ensure that laissez-faire free enterprise economics will be championed uncritically, despite the Board’s insistence on teaching “all sides” in science, even where there are actually not conflicting “sides” among the scientists.
There is a more general serious threat to Social Studies, however. Whatever the Texas SBOE does, school science will continue to be understood as a subject constituted by the actual science disciplines; and “expertise” will be understood (outside the SBOE, anyway) as something to be found among the members of those actual disciplines.
The school subject(s) of “Social Studies” has no such well established recognized identity. If SBOE succeeds unchallenged in accepting people like David Barton to serve as “experts” on Social Studies, this reinforces the establishment of Social Studies as a school subject in which political, ideological, and religious agendas can be played out on the basis of sheer political power, unchecked by anything like the authority of experts in the disciplines.