Another History FAIL from Leo, Barton

by Dan Quinn

Terri Leo and her colleagues on the Texas State Board of Education have spent years trying to promote their own distorted and politicized versions of American history in our public schools. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that Leo got her history wrong yet again in yesterday’s announcement that she will not seek re-election in 2012.

Leo, R-Spring, endorsed Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, as her replacement on the board. Toward the end of that endorsement, Leo wrote:

Donna understands fully what Abraham Lincoln meant when he said, “The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

Except Lincoln quite likely didn’t say that.

In fact, it’s just one of many “unconfirmed” quotations that the far right’s favorite phony “historian,” David Barton, once attributed to famous Americans in his own work. After years of criticism, Barton felt compelled in 2000 to acknowledge that he has no evidence those quotes were ever uttered. (Yet Leo’s far-right  colleagues on the state board appointed Barton as an “expert” adviser on the social studies curriculum revision in 2009-10 even though he is mostly a political propagandist with no formal academic training in the social sciences.)

Despite his admission of error, Barton’s zombie quotations live on, eating their way into our nation’s civil and political discourse.

Last year, for example, Cynthia Dunbar — one of Leo’s far-right colleagues before leaving the state board at the end of 2010 — used essentially the same unsubstantiated Lincoln quotation (although she appears not to have attributed it to him) in an interview for an article for the New York Times Magazine in February 2010, “How Christian Were the Founders?”:

The Christian “truth” about America’s founding has long been taught in Christian schools, but not beyond. Recently, however — perhaps out of ire at what they see as an aggressive, secular, liberal agenda in Washington and perhaps also because they sense an opening in the battle, a sudden weakness in the lines of the secularists — some activists decided that the time was right to try to reshape the history that children in public schools study. Succeeding at this would help them toward their ultimate goal of reshaping American society. As Cynthia Dunbar, another Christian activist on the Texas board, put it, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

And as of today, a Texas Tea Party website is still using bogus quotations Barton once attributed to James Madison and Patrick Henry. (The website uses the unsubstantiated quotations to promote the concept of a Christian America.)

Leo, Dunbar and the Texas Tea Partiers provide just three of the numerous examples of how Barton’s revisionist “history” continues to corrupt both education and politics in America.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” philosopher George Santayana famously wrote. Just as true, apparently, is that those who rely on David Barton for history lessons are doomed to getting it wrong — over and over again. Just ask Terri Leo.



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