Grading the Social Studies Experts: ‘Fail’

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.”

14 thoughts on “Grading the Social Studies Experts: ‘Fail’

  1. You people at TFN and all of your supporters are so mean-spirited. How dare you question the factual integrity of the work done by fine and Godly men like Mr. Barton and Mr. Marshall. You are the spawn of the devil, and your rejoinders are probably all liberal lies. We know what people like you are like. Why, I have half a mind to take everything you just wrote down to my local college library, thumb through the books, and expose your God-hating lies, but I can’t do it because I have to go to the supermarket and pick Billy up at football practice after school. Maybe some other time.

    Hey, none of them come here to say things like this, so I thought it might be appropriate to go ahead and say what most of them are probably thinking. There’s always some excuse to avoid the truth, even when it gets stuffed up your nose from close range. Good job TFN. Good job.

  2. Oh my, …seems like the Wingnut “experts” are approching functional illiteracy.

    How embarrassing for them and Lowe, Mercer, Cargill, and “dumb” Dunbar.

    Hey Gail Lowe! Next time do you think you could get phony “experts” with at least a mastery of high school history?

    Probably not, …it wouldn’t serve your illiterate “agenda”.

  3. Y’all seem to have missed the most important grade; Who’s wearin’ the doggone finest cowboy boots this side o’ the Pecos?

  4. It seems to me that we have given away the American store of human resources to the Un-American Fringes that were once considered dangerous. We the people of the Untied States of America, voted for bigots, corporate thieves, White Supremists, Christian Crusaders who would declare war for it, and those who would convolute the Constitution, Capitalism, Democracy and the purpose of our hard earned dollars we desperately wanted to contribute to Social Security as a sacred trust, as sacred as a Bank Trust. Not only was our Social Security convoluted, the IOUs deposited as the funds for the future security of All American Citizens Social Security Pensions, were viable, although George Bush claimed they were not viable. (same IOUs we gave to China in debt so great we will never be free in our diplomacy with them). The Fringes, KKK, John Birch Society, American Nazi Party and the Christian Coalition of ideological fanatics all joined forces and in the Republican Party, and frankly…won…took it over. Now invading our schools and have destroyed the highest standards of Education, rendering our children illiterate and pregnant in greater numbers than the era when Human Sexuality was part of the curriculum. We gave the wingnuts the tools to build the greatest, most viable machine of destruction against our Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and freedom of religion.

  5. As a social studies educator, I have to say..I am glad I am not in Texas. Not that Florida is much better..

  6. I’m no Barton apologist (am unfamiliar with his work), but there are a few things to note with your criticisms:

    RE: Andrew Jackson and the First Seminole War. First, Barton isn’t saying that Jackson emerged as a ‘hero’ in this war. It’s dishonest to ignore only concentrate on the “hero” part and ignore “and presidents”. But more importantly, isn’t it important to understand Jackson’s role in the First Seminole War and how he “emerged” out of this war, considering his Indian Removal Act? To ask the question is to answer the question…

    RE Lincoln and the Black Hawk War: Lincoln saw no combat, fair enough. But again, Barton isn’t saying that Lincoln served in this war ‘heroically’. But Lincoln’s service wasn’t inconsequential – Lincoln was elected captain, Lincoln saw his experiences there as significant.

    RE Henry Highland Garnet: It wasn’t just a sermon – his message was both religious and political. Thus his call Congress to “Emancipate, Enfranchise, and to Educate.” Thus it is correct to say that he ‘addressed’ the audience.

    RE ‘Wentworth Cheswell”: David Barton is spelling Wentworth Cheswill’s name as Wentworth Cheswill spelled it. View an actual document here:

    C’mon guys, I did this in like 15 minutes. Looks like ya’ll have some corrections to be made for the ‘corrections’.

    1. As we noted in our post, we welcome any corrections. But please note that the context for Barton’s discussion was “Military History.” In fact, he writes: “numerous heroes and presidents emerged from other wars.” Well, it’s true that many served in the military and even in times of war. But how exactly did Lincoln “emerge” from a war in which he saw no combat? Jackson certainly did emerge from war — but he was a hero before the Seminole War, becoming a national hero with the victory at the Battle of New Orleans. It may not be an error to choose the Seminole War, but it’s certainly curious for a “historian” to ignore his importance in the preceding War of 1812. Regarding Garnet, the source we noted indicated a sermon. We’ll concede that a sermon also is, technically, an address. And Barton uses the “Cheswell” spelling on his Web site, which makes his choice of “Cheswill” in his review curious. Moreover, the name is “Cheswell” on his gravestone and in multiple other sources. Regardless, we’re certainly willing to concede that there are two possible spellings for his name. Now what of the other factual problems we noted in Barton’s review? We, of course, don’t claim to be history experts. He does.

  7. Don’t think the comments on TEKS – by Barton or the other commenters – were meant to be the final statements on the matter. What this means is that while issues or criticisms are raised and supports given, it’s unlikely that any of the comments goes through multiple drafts. This doesn’t excuse inaccuracies, but it puts them in context; a blog post isn’t going to be as accurate or as comprehensive as a book, even if it’s written by a historian.

    With that being said, there are multiple inaccuracies in Barton’s criticism of TEKS, yes. Names shouldn’t be misspelled. But that’s a minor, insubstantial mistake. Barton was inaccurate with his numbers of the Republican Convention… but let’s not forget that as a ‘temporary chairman’ Lynch did preside over convention. But the Barbary Wars point is probably debatable – that was a war against multiple countries and peace treaties were signed with individual countries.

    On Lincoln, Barton makes a brief mention of Lincoln’s involvement in the Black Hawk War. There’s no telling how much weight Barton would give it in a classroom setting, but he isn’t suggesting that it be given substantial weight. Anyway, I’ll say it again – Lincoln considered that war, and his election as captain, as a significant event. Further, it was at this war that he met John Calhoun, and his election as captain may have led (or help lead) to his subsequent appointment as postmaster of New Salem.

    On Jackson, you’re incorrect to assume that the omission of Jackson’s role in the War of 1812 is to ignore his role in that war – omission and ignorance aren’t synonymous.

    Let me add a further correction – it’s incorrect to imply that Barton believed Congress declared war in the First Barbary War. Barton never said this. Rather, he said that it was “the first declared war following American independence.” This obviously leaves out who declared the war, and it’s disingenuous to assume that “the first declared war” equals “the first war that Congress declared.”

    1. What you call “insubstantial errors” would be unacceptable in a social studies classroom. Moreover, a number of problems we noted are considerably more substantial than misspellings. For example, Barton is wrong when he suggests that John Tyler was the hero of Tippecanoe. Harrison was. And “the providential preservation” of George Washington’s life? What historical record backs up that claim? We also don’t buy the excuse that he didn’t mean America declared war in the Barbary Wars. We suspect most teachers wouldn’t buy a similar excuse from their students — they would expect a bit more precision to show that they truly understand the history. Then there are Marshall’s problems, including his inaccurate description of the results of the Mexican-American War. The point here isn’t that these errors would make it into the standards. The curriculum writers, we hope, will prevent that. The point is that Barton and Marshall present themselves as “history experts.” They’re clearly not. Real experts would have been far more helpful in developing truly sound curriculum standards that will help students succeed.

  8. Eh, misspelled names in a simple comment aren’t a big deal. Right, there is no place in a classroom text for that, but these comments aren’t going in a textbook, are they? Irrelevant comparisons aside….

    “[T]he first declared war following American independence.” Nothing in this phrase implies that the US Congress ‘declared’ this war. It isn’t an ‘excuse’ to think otherwise – it’s a reasonable conclusion based on a reasonable reading of Barton’s ambiguous statement.

    TFN would at least agree with Barton that Texas needs a more comprehensive teaching of military history, right?

    Regardless, I think it’s safe to say that both Barton and TFN need to touch up on their accuracy.

    1. mwfischer writes:
      “Eh, misspelled names in a simple comment aren’t a big deal.”

      We disagree and think a real history “expert” should know how to spell names correctly. If he can’t get the little things right, then we haven’t got much confidence in his ability to get the bigger things right either.

      “TFN would at least agree with Barton that Texas needs a more comprehensive teaching of military history, right?”

      What we would say is Texas students deserve better than amateurs like David Barton and Peter Marshall trying to guide what they learn. Neither one of them is qualified to guide the development of a “more comprehensive teaching of military history,” much less a broader social studies curriculum.

      “Regardless, I think it’s safe to say that both Barton and TFN need to touch up on their accuracy.”

      We didn’t suggest any inaccuracies be placed in the standards. Barton and Marshall did. We aren’t serving on a panel of history “experts” helping revise the standards. They are.

  9. I have to agree with TFN. Accuracy is very important in history, and so is writing. In case you have not noticed, most history is written down at some point. The writing is important and so is the spelling that goes with it. I have no use for the likes of Barton and Marshall. It appears that Dreisbach made a few brief comments and slipped out the back door—a wise move I dare say.

  10. This is late, but TFN tends to be something I read in batches. I think that some of your criticisms, while valid and important, sound petty and pedantic. (“That’s ALL you can come up with?” I can hear a Barton supporter saying that.) On the other hand, you don’t hit him for the ideological assumptions that seem to be driving just the mistaks he made.

    For example his ‘extension’ of the Barbary Wars plays nicely into his religious idea of the ‘eternal war’ between Islam and Christianity — represented by the ‘Christian Nation’ of America. And his repeated use of positive images from the Amerind Wars, particularly the stretch with Lincoln and comment about Jackson, seems designed to move the portrait of our interreactions with the Amerinds back to a “Good White Man bringing the benefits of Christianity to the Savage Indians’ picture.

    And I’ll give him a bye on ‘providential’ — in fact, if he were smarter, I might think he set a trap for you and fellow critics. Yes, you and I know he meant “Providential” and it was used just the way you read it, but technichally he used ‘providential’ which even an atheist like myself will use to mean ‘fortunate’ or ‘lucky.’ And in that sene, Washington’s survival was providential.