13 thoughts on “The Glenn Beck and David Barton History Roadshow is Coming to a Public School Near You

  1. Without money, we have to fight on platforms that don’t require large amounts of money. When you search for Barton on YouTube, it comes up with dozens (if not hundreds) of videos of him talking his nonsense. Why is there no series of videos by actual historians entitled, “Why David Barton is Wrong about the Founding?” That’s something that could be done relatively cheaply, if the inclination and will existed. In addition, we should petition the organizations in our field that have resources to put a small amount of them toward directly counteracting this initiative. Why can’t the AHA or OAH or similar organizations help provide the organizational impetus for actual historians willing to volunteer time to visit local public schools in their own areas. No distinguished speaker fees, no travel, just historians getting into schools FOR FREE through the imprimatur of our professional organizations. We don’t have the money that they have but it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways we can’t collectively counteract the willful miseducation of our nation’s youth about the fundamentals of American history.

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  2. I recently read Rick Perlstein’s excellent book, “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.” He documented how a few wealthy Libertarian families, the Coors, the DeVos, the Mellon Scaifes, the Olins, the Bradleys, etc., poured money into right-wing think tanks (Heritage Foundation, Eagle Forum, American Enterprise Institute, CATO Institute, Hoover Institute, etc.) in order to take over the Republican Party with the goal of promoting the unholy mixture of Ayn Randian economic policies with alleged Judeo-Christian moral principles. The Koch Brothers came on the scene later but with many of the same Libertarian goals. All of this money funded AstroTurf groups that infiltrated the GOP at the local level, the state level and through Ronald Reagan, the federal government. These conservative think tanks have provided the so-called “experts” that regularly appear in newspapers, magazines, online and on TV network news shows and cable news shows all parroting the same bought and paid for Libertarian narrative. So this is a “revolution” that has been decades in the making and largely pulled off outside public view disguised as a average American citizen’s movement.

    So how do we overcome decades of indoctrination, subversion, the takeover of all levels of government, the takeover of corporate media, and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to build and defend this Libertarian/bastardized Christian worldview? Money equals power and influence in America. The more money, the more power, the more influence people and groups have in America. The people dedicated to the Libertarian/Christian alliance do not play by any rules or respect for the facts. All they care about are results which justifies their actions. So how do those of us with a sense of human decency, ethics and conscience battle the forces arrayed against us? We now live in a world where “alternative facts” are the new “truth” and evidence to the contrary is dismissed as fake news by those who traffic in producing and promoting fake news.

    So solve these challenges and our Constitutional Republic just may survive to be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren. Fail and the United States ends the great experiment in democracy started in 1787. So no pressure Dr. Fea, no pressure at all sir.

    “Though conservative think tanks get a lot of money, their money does not come from the wealthiest foundations by any means. There are plenty of liberals with enough money to match the conservatives. Wealthy liberals, however, want their money to go as directly as possible to the downtrodden and oppressed, with nothing significant designated for infrastructure, career development, or their intellectuals. From a position external to the liberal moral system this seems irrational and self-defeating. But from inside the moral system it seems natural.” (George Lakoff, “Moral Politics,” pp. 417-418.)

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  3. Without excusing the misleading historical half-truths and bald lies of conservative culture warriors, it seems to me that one reason they find an eager audience is that the professional study of history has become so politically univocal. Undoubtedly you know a wider range of professional historians than I, but in my experience in graduate school and in academia since, I have found only two political positions available to historians (and humanities scholars more broadly): liberal or silent. The AHA intervenes in US politics in a blatantly partisan manner. History departments organize events to “debate the issues,” and the fact that all the panelists are liberals make the discussion an in-house debate. I know only one politically right-leaning historian (out of several dozen professional historians), and because she is untenured she expressed to me that she has gotten very good at not expressing her political views. This seems to me a major problem for our discipline, and an instance where the profession is failing the public by not engaging the broader range of public concerns and questions. If more professional historians engaged conservative ideas with anything other than ridicule, more of the American public would be interested in hearing what they have to say. The public loves history and buys popular history in bulk; they just find academic history dull, impenetrably written, and politically lopsided.

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    • This is a fair point. I have been in AHA and OAH sessions where evangelicals and conservatives are openly mocked. And this usually happens in the context of a joke that gets a lot of audience laughter. A year or two ago I sat in the audience at a panel on American religious history and listened to the panelists talk disparagingly about evangelicals. What was particularly sad was that some of the panelists were Christians and they just sat back and let it all happen. So I think much of what you say here is on the mark.

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  4. John we should get you to come down to Philadelphia to conduct a history tour titled “The Role of Religion in America’s Founding.” You could you use your book _Was America Founded as a Christian Nation_ as a resource guide to develop narrative components at various colonial/revolutionary history sites in Old City Philly. The tour could include reading short texts from original documents and then put them into historical context. Given that that Bible society is opening up on the National mall soon, there maybe opportunities to tap into a market of history tourists interested in the role of religion in US history. Maybe we could do more than just one tour. What if we could mobilize a group of history tour guides to conduct these kinds of tours that promote critical historical thinking. As far as media is concerned, you could do an audio recording of one of the tours and produce it into one of your podcast episodes. I don’t think we need million dollars to do what Barton and Beck do. We just need to be creative.

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  5. Money is important, but so is time, as I think Michael Hattan is suggesting. I’ve learned from K-12 teachers that they are desperate for content; their time is often consumed by teaching duties — some bureaucratic and some important — that take them away from reading sources and developing rich activities. Packaged activities, such as Barton on Youtube or this initiative, promise to fill that need. We’re left lamenting their use, but should perhaps find time to work directly with local teachers ourselves, thus helping to fill the content void with something we believe honors historical thinking. In my experience, that’s rewarding but also somewhat nervewracking, since it’s not publication or grant work, nor even the kind of departmental service that we all acknowledge needs to be done. Nonetheless, it’s a small sacrifice, and not even a sacrifice, since we need students to enter college valuing history. Organizations such as (in my state) the Arizona Council for History Educators help bridge primary, secondary, and university history teaching, and everyone benefits, maybe even civil society!

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    • Catherine: Agreed! There are organizations doing this–Gilder-Lehrman, state and local public humanities groups, NEH, Mount Vernon, etc., but they are often selective (they can only take so many teachers).. We need more of this. I work a lot with teachers and you are correct–they are craving content and training in historical thinking skills. Thanks for the post.

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