A Look at the Texas Social Studies ‘Experts’

by TFN

We reported in April that the creationist faction on the Texas State Board of Education was moving to pack a key “expert” review panel for the social studies curriculum revision with like-minded ideologues. (See here and here.) We now have the names of all the “expert” panelists. As with the science “expert” panel, it appears that the social studies panel will be evenly split between mainstream academics and ideologues aligned with the creationist faction.

The three mainstream academics on the panel are Jesus Francisco de la Teja of Texas State University (appointed by SBOE members Rene Nunez, D-El Paso, and Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi), Jim Kracht of Texas A&M (appointed by Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, and Bob Craig, R-Lubbock), and Lybeth Hodges (appointed by Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, and Lawrence Allen, D-Houston).

The three ideologues aligned with the board’s creationist faction are David Barton (appointed by Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, and Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio), the Rev. Peter Marshall (appointed by Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, and Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond), and Daniel Dreisbach (appointed by Terri Leo, R-Spring, and David Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna).

SBOE members Don McLeroy, R-College Station; Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas; and Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio, were unable to come to agreement on appointing a seventh panelist.

Even a casual look at the vita for each of these “experts” makes clear grossly unequal qualifications. That examination also reveals the agenda of the board’s creationist faction: use the social studies curriculum to promote a political argument against separation of church and state.

So let’s look at each of the so-called “experts” who will guide the revision of social studies standards for an entire generation of children in Texas public schools.

Mainstream Academics
Jim Kracht is a professor of teaching, learning and culture and a professor of geography at Texas A&M University. He holds a master’s in geography and a doctorate in social studies education. He currently serves as associate dean for academic affairs in the university’s College of Education and is a senior fellow for the Gilbert Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education (Texas State University).

Jesus Francisco de la Teja is a professor and chairman of the history department at Texas State University-San Marcos. De la Teja has a master’s in Latin American history and a doctorate in colonial Latin American history. He served a two-year term as Texas State Historian until May of this year. The distinguished professor has authored three books (including high school and college textbooks), has edited seven books, and has written chapters for nine others. He has also written 11 journal articles, nine articles for encyclopedias and other reference resources, and scores of reviews, scripts and translations in other publications.  His list of lectures, awards and professional associations is similarly lengthy.

Lybeth Hodges is a professor of history and government at Texas Woman’s University, where she teaches in an honors scholars program and the College of Professional Education. Hodges has a master’s in history from TWU and a doctorate in history from Texas Tech University.

David Barton founded and heads WallBuilders, a Christian advocacy group based near Fort Worth that calls separation of church and state a myth and argues that the United States is a Christian nation that should be governed on Christian bibilical principles. Barton earned a bachelor’s degree in religious education and has two honorary doctorates from two small Christian colleges. He has authored 14 books, all self-published by his WallBuilder Press, and has written one article each for the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy and the Regent University Law Review (Pat Robertson’s university).

The Rev. Peter Marshall is a Presbyterian minister who runs Peter Marshall Ministries, which seeks “to restore America to its Bible-based foundations through preaching, teaching, and writing on America’s Christian heritage and on Christian discipleship and revival.”  Marshall has a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s of divinity degree and has co-authored three books ostensibly on American history — all three from Christian book publisher Revell and marketed as part of an “America’s Christian Heritage Package” on his Web site. According to the biographical sketch he provided to the Texas Education Agency, Marshall has “done extensive research on historical periods to inspire interest by youth through fictional depictions utilizing historically accurate elements and issues.” Like Barton, Marshall believes that the U.S. Constitution does not protect separation of church and state, and he seeks to restore “America’s Christian heritage.”

Daniel Dreisbach actually brings some academic credentials to the panel, although his work and interests are very narrowly focused. Dreisbach is a professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., and has earned a law degree  and a doctorate of philosophy in politics. He also serves on the faculty of the James Madison Fellowship Foundation in Washington. Dreisbach has authored seven books and written 16 chapters in other books, seven reference articles, and nearly two dozen reviews. His work and interests appear to be almost entirely focused on the role of religion in American history, society and law, and Dreisbach also argues that the Constitution does not protect separation of church and state.

As we have already reported, SBOE member Don McLeroy also sought to appoint Minnesotan Allen Quist to the panel but could not find a partner on the board to join in the appointment. Quist, who suffered a landslide defeat when he sought the 1994 Republican nomination for governor, is an anti-abortion and anti-gay crusader with no academic credentials in social studies.

In contrast, SBOE board member Tincy Miller has nominated Edward Countryman, a distinguished and award-winning professor of history at Southern Methodist University. Countryman is an accomplished historian and writer, having authored at least a half-dozen books and numerous other publications. Neither McLeroy nor Rick Agosto of San Antonio would join Miller in appointing Countryman to the panel. (Appointments require the support of two board members.)

The state board has charged the “expert” panelists with reviewing the state’s current social standards and reporting back by June 29. The panelists will also review and help guide the work of writing teams made up of teachers and others who are already working on the standards revision. The state board is scheduled to adopt the revised social studies standards in March 2010. Publishers will use those standards to write new history, geography and other social studies textbooks up for adoption in Texas two years later. Publishers often sell those same textbooks to schools in smaller states across the country. You can read more about the Texas social studies revision process here.

See more on David Barton here.

See more on Peter Marshall here.