The reports written by reviewers of the Texas social studies standards are now back up on-line. We thus continue with our discussion of the report by Christian nationalist David Barton. For those who are new to this discussion you can get up to speed here and here and here.
I can largely agree with Barton in his concern that the education of high school teachers is too focused on methodology and not focused enough on content. Barton wants teachers who teach history in Texas to have degrees in history rather than “Social Studies.” This seems to be a problem across the country, not just in Texas. Most teachers trained in “Social Studies” only take a few required courses in history. As I noted in my last couple of posts, I think Barton and I might have some disagreement on what schools should be accomplishing with such history courses, but the general principle is a sound one.
In a section of the report entitled “Culture,” Barton challenges what he perceives to be a multicultural agenda in the Texas standards. He worries that the standards have changed “E Pluribus Unum” to “E Unum Pluribus.” To solve this problem, and at the same time teach students about diversity, Barton suggests that teaching about “those who made significant contributions” to American history will inevitably result in coverage of people “from other cultures.”
This sounds good, until Barton illustrates his point:
Therefore, when the story of the Battle of Yorktown is recounted, the famous portrait of Gen. Marquis de Lafayette standing with James Armistead will be shown, showing black and white heroes standing side by side – one, the young white general; the other, the black who was the first double-spy in American history who perhaps shaved months off the Revolution. Similarly, when students see John Trumbull’s Battle of Bunker Hill, they will see black hero Peter Salem (one of the most highly decorated soldiers of that battle) standing by white soldier David Grovesnor – the two fighting side by side. And when the picture of Washington crossing the Delaware is shown, students will see Washington standing in the boat with Prince Whipple and Oliver Cromwell – two black patriots who served with the general staff throughout the Revolution. Or when students see the famous Chicago statue of Revolutionary War heroes George Washington, Robert Morris, and Haym Salomon, they will see two Christians standing with a Jew, all close friends and compatriots throughout the Revolution. The opportunities are endless, but simply providing an accurate view of history will show students both diversity and culture.
If you focus on the great white male leaders of the past and the events that Barton believes contributed to the establishment and growth of the United States , then historical actors of color or diversity will often pop-up in the narrative–almost like an added bonus. Peter Salem or James Armistead or Haym Solomon make cameo appearances in the stories we tell about American history only when they intersect with a dominant Whig narrative.
It seems to me that if Barton really wants to understand the past through the eyes of God, he would argue that diverse voices and historical actors are important simply because they are human beings created in God’s image. This is a bit different than defining who is truly important based upon how they related to George Washington or contributed in some way to a national narrative. Is the culture of native Americans, for example, only important for the ways that they contributed to American independence? Or are their voices worthy of study because they are human beings?
Of course if you believe that the United States is exceptional or God’s chosen people, then I guess you would place more emphasis on those people who had a more direct role in creating and sustaining the Godly republic or the “Christian nation.” They would, after all, be God’s specially anointed servants.