Lone Star Scrape: Texas Hearings On Social Studies Curriculum May Get Heated

The showdown in Texas over religion in the classroom continues this week.

The Texas State Board of Education is holding hearings on the social studies curriculum. And, as we have reported before, what should be a simple discussion based on recommendations from historians has turned into a debate fueled by the Religious Right to push "Christian nation" propaganda.

Leading the way are David Barton and the Rev. Peter Marshall, two well-known Religious Right activists who were selected by the board to sit on the six-member social studies curriculum review panel.

Barton, who has no credentials as a historian, runs Wallbuilders, a propaganda organization that issues a steady stream of books, videos, DVDs, pamphlets and other materials designed to "prove" the United States was founded to be Christian country.

Marshall is a traveling evangelist who authored The Light and the Glory, a book used to teach history to home-schoolers in which he claims America has been a Christian nation since colonial days.

Barton and Marshall believe church-state separation does not exist in America. Now, they have recommended that their version of American history be taught in Texas classrooms.

They have suggested the social studies curriculum put more emphasis on documents from early America like the Mayflower Compact of 1620. They also suggest adding the Bible as a source of influence in creating significant American documents. The overall impact on students will be that the nation's founders shaped America based on biblical principles.

In Marshall's suggested revisions, he recommends adding a subsection to the fifth-grade curriculum to "describe the impact of religious revivals (the Great Awakening) in shaping a national identity and, perhaps, contributing to the drive for political independence."

Their suggestions, fortunately, are not sitting well with real historians.

According to a report by the Austin American-Statesman, Edward Countryman, a history professor at Southern Methodist University, said Marshall and Barton's version of history has no place in public education.

"It's historically false to say the Founding Fathers intended to create a Christian republic," he told the newspaper. "I don't think this idea should be taught in schools."

John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College, an evangelical school in Pennsylvania, echoed that thought.

"I'm an evangelical Christian, and I think David Barton and Peter Marshall are completely out to lunch," he said. "They are not experts on social studies and history. Neither of them are trained in history. They are preachers who use the past and history as a means of promoting a political agenda in the present."

That's what Americans United hopes the State Board of Education will realize, too. Texas students deserve a quality education, and that includes learning accurate American history void of a Religious Right political agenda.

An Americans United local chapter leader plans to tell the board just that when she provides testimony at Wednesday's hearing, along with 94 other people who have also signed up to testify. The board will debate the proposed standards on Thursday and take the first of two votes on the draft curriculum on Friday.