Blacklisting César Chavez

by TFN

It didn’t take long for the absurdly unqualified ideologues appointed to a social studies curriculum panel by the Texas State Board of Education to start playing politics with our kids’ education. Two far-right members of the so-called “expert” panel guiding the curriculum revision are demanding that César Chavez — the renowned community and labor organizer and civil rights leader — be stricken from the standards because they say he’s not the right kind of role model for students.

That’s only one of the problems with the “expert” reviews of the current social studies standards provided to the Texas Education Agency last week by the panelists. The panel is made up of six members, including a trio of mainstream academics from Texas universities. The others include political activist David Barton of Texas and evangelical minister Peter Marshall of Massachusetts, who used their reviews to criticize the inclusion of Chavez and other historical figures they consider inappropriate. In addition, they and fellow panelist Daniel Dreisbach of American University make lengthy arguments that the Founders intended to create a distinctly Christian American nation based on biblical principles. That contention conflicts with multiple rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court and sharply differs with the research of most scholars. In fact, mainstream scholars point out that  the Founders sought to protect the religious freedom of citizens by keeping the affairs of government and religious institutions separate.

But let’s consider  first what we fear might become a growing “blacklist” of historical figures, especially Chavez, social conservatives find objectionable.

Barton — a historical revisionist, founder of the Christian-nation advocacy organization WallBuilders, and former vice chair of the Texas Republican Pary whose bachelor’s degree is in religious education — notes Chavez’s ties to a prominent guru of community organizing and democratic participation, Saul Alinsky (also a frequent target of attacks by conservatives). Barton writes:

“(Chavez’s) open affiliation with Saul Alinsky’s movements certainly makes dubious that he is a praiseworthy to be heralded to students as someone ‘who modeled active participation in the democratic process.'”

Marshall, who heads Peter Marshall Ministries and also has no graduate academic work in the social sciences, agrees:

“Chavez is hardly the kind of role model that ought to be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation.”

Really? That might come as a surprise to the parents of children attending the (at least) 44 schools across this country named after Chavez (including eight schools in Texas). Or to people in communities who have named numerous parks, libraries, major thoroughfares and other places after Chavez, who died in 1993. (Click here to read about the relationship that Chavez developed with Robert F. Kennedy. Of course, we imagine Barton and Marshall don’t think much of Kennedy, either.)

Barton and Marshall don’t stop there. They also object to the inclusion of Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), whose beliefs regarding equality and rights for women were rather progressive for her time. Hutchinson also challenged the prevailing religious doctrine of Puritan clergy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Her Bible meetings for women included her own religious and biblical interpretations — something that offended Puritan clergy and leaders of the colony. Those clergy and colonial officials put Hutchinson on trial and then exiled her.

Barton and Marshall argue that Hutchinson was simply too unimportant a historical figure. But Marshall’s argument is particularly revealing:

“She was certainly not a significant colonial leader, and didn’t accomplish anything except getting herself exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for making trouble.”

What a fascinating — and hypocritical — statement. Hutchinson’s persecution because of her beliefs is a prime example of why church-state separation is so important to protecting religious freedom. Yet Marshall argues that Hutchinson was little more than a troublemaker.

Marshall also goes after the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, saying Justice Marshall is not “a strong enough example” of a historical figure of influence. In fact, Marshall argued the groundbreaking Brown v Topeka Supreme Court case that banned racial segregation in public schools. He later became the first African American to serve on the high court.

Barton and Marshall make other peculiar arguments that are really attempts to use the standards to promote political agendas. Marshall, for example, argues that Roe v Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion, has had more impact on “American life than any other Supreme Court decision in the twentieth century.” Really? It certainly was an important and influential case, but more than Brown v Topeka? We imagine historians can point to a number of other important and influential court decisions in the 1900s. But it should be no surprise that Marshall — who is obsessed with ending abortion — sees Roe as more important than anything else.

Barton, Marshall and Dreisbach also spend considerable time and space arguing that religion was the primary motivation for colonization and the creation of the American form of government.

Says Marshall:

“(T)he discovery, settling, and founding of the colonies happened because of the Biblical worldviews of those involved. Only when this is taken into account can America’s founding be properly understood.”

Religion was certainly a motivation for some, even many, colonists. But the exaggerated political dogma apparent in Marshall’s statement is common throughout the reviews of the three right-wingers on the panel. (In fact, their reviews are so similar in places that it seems as though they coordinated their work.) To emphasize their arguments about religious motivations, they specifically downplay, for example, economic motivations for colonization (and call for the standards to de-emphasize the role of economics in American history).

There is much more — you can read all of the reviews here.

The state board wants curriculum writing teams — also seeded (to a lesser extent, fortunately) with ideologues — to use the “expert” reviews to guide the standards revision. Those teams, which are made up of educators and community members, will continue their work at the end of this month. The board will discuss progress on the standards at meetings this summer and fall and is set to hold public hearings this winter. A final vote is expected in March.

UPDATE: Vince at Capitol Annex is calling out the factual errors in these “expert” reviews. We’ll post links as they become available. Here’s one. Vince digs deeper into Barton’s review here.