God and History Class


Dave Mann

I was never the most attentive student in high school. I confess that my attention sometimes wandered, and I didn’t always listen to the lesson.

But I’m reasonably sure my history teacher never instructed me that God saved George Washington’s life during the French-Indian War through divine intervention.

If David Barton gets his way, though — along with other Christian conservatives on the State Board of Education — that’s exactly what Texas school children will be learning in history class.

Starting today, the State Board will gather for what promises to be a rollicking three-day meeting in which the 15 board members will debate how to revise the social studies curriculum for Texas’ public school students.

Barton — a religious conservative, former vice chair of the Texas GOP, and head of the group WallBuilders, which espouses, among other things, ending the separation of church and state — is one of the experts (and I’m using that term lightly since he has no formal training as an educator or historian) the State Board asked to examine the current social studies curriculum and recommend changes.

As you may know — and I’ve written about before — Barton and two other Christian conservatives made some rather surprising recommendations, including the removal of Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall from parts of the social studies curriculum. This nonsense has once again made the State Board a national laughing stock.

In his most recent critique, Barton recommends that students should learn about:

George Washington’s emergence as a nationally recognized figure following the providential preservation of his life during the Battle of the Monongahela.

You can read Barton’s full critique in all its glory here. For those, like me, with a limited vocab, here’s the definition of “providential.”

Yesterday, the Texas Freedom Network held its pre-game press conference in advance of this week’s meeting. It’s become a tradition: TFN gathers nationally known experts in a certain field (history, science, language arts) to urge the State Board not to adopt the nuttier proposals from the Christian right.

The conservative side will have its say this afternoon. Americans for Prosperity and the Austin tea partiers will hold their own news conference at noon.

For the moment, the more outlandish proposals from the Christian right have been beaten back. The social studies curriculum that the Board will consider this week still contains Chavez and Marshall, and doesn’t “vindicate” Joseph McCarthy, and doesn’t portray America as a Christian nation.

But that could all change. The seven social conservatives on the State Board are expected to offer numerous amendments to the curriculum this week and again at a meeting in March.

Perhaps the biggest point of contention is whether America was founded as a “Christian nation.”

On that front, mainstream historians argue that the Christian right continually takes quotes from the founding fathers out of context. There’s no doubt many of the founders were devout Christians. And there’s no doubt they envisioned a country that was tolerant of religion and in which religion was prominent. But they clearly wanted religion separate from government. They designed our Constitution that way and it’s worked.

As Steven Green, a law and history professor and director of the Willamette Center of Religion at Willamette University in Oregon, pointed out it at yesterday’s TFN press conference, the U.S. has experienced far less religious conflict than any other western nation. “The United States is the only nation that got the church-state puzzle right,” he said.

Starting today, we’ll find out if the State Board agrees.