They call these guys social studies “experts”? Please. If the Texas State Board of Education were to fine David Barton and Peter Marshall for each of the factual errors in their reviews of proposed (first drafts) social studies curriculum standards — as the board fines publishers for errors in textbooks — it would add up to a big chunk 0′ change. In fact, a partial analysis of the curriculum reviews from these two supposed social studies “experts” reveals a number of problems with basic historical facts, including distortions and misstatements as well as the simple misspelling of names.
We are not historians either, of course, but we haven’t been appointed to an “expert” panel helping guide what a generation of Texas students will learn in their social studies classrooms. In any case, for every correction noted below, we have linked to our sources — which include primary source documents — and welcome any corrections to the information we provide. Read on.
David Barton’s Problems with Facts
We told you Monday about Barton’s tenuous grasp of civil rights history — his latest review confused basic facts of the well-known story of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on the bus in segregated Montgomery, Alabama. So we decided to take a closer look at Barton’s review of the first draft of new social studies standards. In just two pages — pages 3 and 4 — from his 87-page review, we identified nearly a dozen instances of either questionable, misleading or outright inaccurate information. Some errors reveal Barton’s poor research skills — not surprising since he’s an amateur historian without any formal academic study or training in the field. Other errors reveal just plain sloppiness — something that would earn low grades for students in a typical social studies classroom.
– Barton says John Roy Lynch was “the first black to preside over a political convention (20,000 delegates in Chicago.)” Actually, Lynch was the “temporary chairman” of the Republican National Convention in Chicago in 1884. But according to the convention’s official proceedings, there were only 820 delegates at the convention (1,600, including alternates) in a Chicago convention hall with a seating capacity of only 9,500 people. According to Wikipedia, there were only 6,000 spectators [Reeves, Thomas C. (1975). Gentleman Boss. NY, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 375, according to Wikipedia].
– Barton describes the war against the Barbary Powers as “the longest war in American history — a 32-year war, and the first declared war following American independence.” But actually there were two wars: 1801-1805 and 1815-16. Congress did not declare war in the first Barbary War. The first congressional declaration of war was the War of 1812 against Great Britain. Congress declared war on Algiers, one of the Barbary Powers, at the end of the War of 1812.
– Barton says “numerous heroes and presidents emerged from … wars, including President John Tyler and Tecumseh’s War (1811) (which resulted in “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”), President Andrew Jackson and the First Seminole War (1817-1818); and President Abraham Lincoln and the Black Hawk War (1832.)” There are numerous issues here. First, William Harrison, not John Tyler, was the hero of the war with Tecumseh, winning the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. When Harrison ran for president, Tyler was his vice presidential running mate, giving rise to the slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.” Second, Andrew Jackson did lead American forces in the First Seminole War, but he became a war hero in the War of 1812, defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 (even though the war had formally ended the month before with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent). Finally, while Abraham Lincoln did serve in the Black Hawk War, he did not see combat in it. UPDATE: A reader argues that the Jackson and Lincoln examples are not technically errors of fact. We believe that — in the context of Barton’s suggestion — they are, at best, misleading.
– Barton says Henry Highland Garnet was “the first black to address the U.S. House of Representatives.” Actually, he was the first to deliver a sermon to the U.S. House of Representatives. UPDATE: One reader points out that his sermon was an address. We think Barton’s wording is imprecise and somewhat misleading. Even so, we will concede that speaking before the House, for whatever reason, does mean that one is “addressing” it.
– Barton says Joseph Haine Rainey was “the first black to preside over the U.S. House of Representatives.” He was, in fact, the first African American to preside over the House when he oversaw debate on an appropriations measure, but his name was spelled Joseph Hayne Rainey.
– Barton says Sgt. William Carney was “the first black Medal of Honor winner.” This is imprecise. Carney was the first African American to earn a Medal of Honor. The award was made in 1900 for his actions in battle on July 18, 1863. The first African American to receive a Medal of Honor was Robert Blake, who received the honor on April 16, 1864, for his actions in battle on December 25, 1863. (See here and here.)
– Barton says “Wentworth Cheswill [was] the first black elected to public office in America.” The correct spelling of his name was Wentworth Cheswell. Barton repeats his misspelling of Cheswell’s name later in his review. UPDATE: There appear to be conflicting spellings for Cheswell’s name in the historical record. On his gravestone, however, the name is spelled “Cheswell.” In addition, Barton’s WallBuilder’s Web site favors the “Cheswell” spelling (although it points out the two possible spellings.) So it’s curious why Barton spells it “Cheswill” twice in his review.
– Barton says “possibly no conflict better defines the clash between Native American culture and American culture than King Phillips war of 1675; yet it is not mentioned anywhere in the TEKS.” Actually, the correct spelling is King Philip’s War.
– Barton suggests students should learn about “Andrew Callioux (a black officer who led black regiments in Civil War and died a celebrated hero during the War).” The correct spelling of his name was Andre Cailloux.
Barton’s review also includes suggestions that expose his desire to turn history class into Sunday school class. For example, in the Grade 5 standards, Barton suggests adding:
“identify and analyze the causes and effects of events prior to and during the American Revolution including the French and Indian War, George Washington’s emergence as a nationally recognized figure following the providential preservation of his life during the Battle of Monongahela, and the Boston Tea Party”
The “providential preservation” of George Washington’s life? There is nothing wrong with people believing that the nation’s first president was saved in battle by God’s direct intervention. On the other hand, that claim is a matter of faith, not historical record. What our children learn in their public school classrooms should be based on facts and sound scholarship, not religious faith.
Peter Marshall’s Problems with Facts
Marshall’s review is much shorter than Barton’s, but it still exposes his weak grasp of historical facts. Some examples:
– In the Grade 1 social studies class, Rev. Marshall wants students to learn that Pedro Flores was the inventor of the yo-yo. But Flores never claimed to be the inventor of a toy that had been around for centuries. The native of the Philippines was, however, the first manufacturer of a yo-yo in the United States.
– In the Grade 2 standards, Rev. Marshall suggests that students learn about the African-American inventor Elijah McCoy. He states as fact that cheap knockoffs of one of McCoy’s inventions gave rise to the expression “the real McCoy.” In fact, the origin of that phrase is strongly disputed. Researchers have identified at least about a half-dozen possible origins, including the story about Elijah McCoy’s invention. Some of the strongest alternatives, however, are a Scottish phrase “the real McKay” that was first recorded in 1856 and a reference to a boxer who went by the name ‘Kid McCoy’ (Norman Shelby, 1873-1940) in the United States.
– In his discussion of the high school U.S. history class, Rev. Marshall writes that the United States returned to Mexico “over half of the territory it conquered” during the Mexican-American War, “drawing the border only where we had claimed it to be before the war – the Rio Grande River.” Well, actually, no. Mexico ceded 55 percent of its territory to the United States as a result of the war. The Rio Grande became the border between Texas and Mexico, but the United States also obtained a huge swath of former Mexican territory that stretched from Texas all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Nearly all of the present-day southwestern United States, including California, Arizona and much of New Mexico, was part of that annexed land.
– In the same U.S. history course, Rev. Marshall suggests that students learn about significant female entrepreneurs in America, including “Mary Fields” of Mrs. Fields Cookies. That would likely come as a surprise to Debbi Fields, who founded Mrs. Fields Cookies in Palo Alto, California, in 1977.
We won’t waste our time calling on the board members who appointed these so-called “experts” — Gail Lowe and Ken Mercer named Barton. while Barbara Cargill and Cynthia Dunbar named Marshall — to retract their support and appoint real historians. But one hopes that the teachers on the curriculum writing teams will file Barton’s and Marshall’s reviews in the proper receptacle — or perhaps return them with a big red “F.”