David Barton -- founder of Wallbuilders, former State Board of Education "social studies expert" and member of the Religious Right coalition that prodded Gov. Rick Perry to join the insufficiently Christian Republican field -- isn't exactly what you'd call a rigorous academic. What you might call him, though, is hellbent on foisting his religion on public-school kids with a vision of our founding seen through a rose-tinted, evangelical-funhouse mirror.
Maybe, as we've mentioned before, those fever-dream culture wars at the SBOE are over. Maybe Barton's history text, Drive Thru History America: Foundations of Character, won't reach a classroom near you, leaving impressionable youth with the impression that the whole separation of church and state thing is liberal nonsense cooked up in an Occupy Dallas tent. It's tough to tell at the moment, though, what public schools looking to spend the discretionary cash they get through Senate Bill 6 will buy. This book? It's possible. We won't know until they start reporting their purchases to the state.
In the meantime, a little context about this textbook. It was produced by the National Day of Prayer Task Force and Focus on the Family. But go easy on Barton. Named one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America by Time, he's the former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, has a BA in religious education from Oral Roberts University and has no clue what he's talking about.
Fortunately a real historian thumbed through Drive Thru, then systematically laid to waste doctrinaire propaganda masquerading as history.
Thomas Jefferson's party were not known as the Anti-Federalists. They were Republicans. Benjamin Franklin was raised a Presbyterian, not a Quaker. Also, things you can't say in the classroom of a public school: "God directs the course of history through the lives of individual men and women," or "The biblical worldview upon which this nation was founded led Americans to see that no separation existed between the sacred and the secular. Every area of life was sacred and was to be lived as 'working for the Lord," or asking students, "Do you think God is real? And if so, does he have a role in your day-to-day life?"
Things that may lead you to believe this textbook encroaches (read: leapfrogs) the separation of church and state: In promotional materials for the textbook, Del Tackett, president of the Focus on the Family Institute exhorts you to "repent" and "listen to God."
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Things the Founding Fathers weren't:
Ben Franklin was not a monolithically religious guy: He rejected his Calvinist upbringing. When the delegates at the Constitutional Convention deadlocked and Franklin said they should appeal "to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings," he said it to embarrass the delegates. Politics, same as it ever was. However, Drive Thru asserts the proclamation "seemed to change the tone of the convention" and that a "three-day recess was called, during which time many of the delegates attended church together." Nope. Citing Madison's Notes, Green says they met the next day. And the day after that. In fact, they refused to pray together.
"Washington was known as a man of prayer," Drive Thru claims, "and he believed that God answered his prayers." Actually, no. Most historians believe George Washington was a deist, and probably wouldn't be considered Christian by today's standards because most likely he didn't buy into the divinity of Jesus.
Basically, Barton's text, rife with errors, is guilty of doing a lot of what thorough history books shouldn't -- making unsupported assumptions and imputing qualities on historical figures for which no proof exists. Good to know in case it, you know, just shows up in your kid's backpack.