More Bad History from Don McLeroy

Right-wing websites are still hailing the Texas State Board of Education‘s passage of a resolution that attacks Islam and falsely claims that social studies textbooks are anti-Christian and pro-Muslim. And state board member Don McLeroy, the dentist from Bryan/College Station, is still pretending to be an expert in history (in addition to science, economics, political science, mathematics and the list goes on). For the newest example, check out (if you have the stomach for this particular website) a story posted Tuesday at WorldNetDaily, the far-right, conspiracy-obsessed site run by folks who seem to think Ann Coulter is too liberal and tolerant. (Yes, we’re serious. Now clean up the coffee you just spit out on your keyboard.)

The WND article goes through the list of disingenuous and outright false claims made by supporters of the state board’s anti-Muslim resolution. We see no point in repeating them here — we debunked them long ago, explaining how the resolution’s charges are based on absurdly incomplete and grossly distorted information about what’s actually in world history textbooks used in public school classrooms. What really forces your forehead into your palm, though, is McLeroy’s demonstration — once again — of why politicians shouldn’t be deciding what children learn in their classrooms. Here’s what McLeroy has to say about how a particular world history textbook discusses the spread of Islam to distant places:

“On page 167 it says, ‘The fact that Islam won converts overwhelmingly through peaceful contacts by long-distance traders and the preaching and the organizational skills of the Sufis.’ I think that’s inaccurate.”

Sigh. No, it’s not. In fact, page 167 of the textbook he’s discussing — World Civilizations: The Global Experience — falls in a chapter about the spread of Islam to South and Southeast Asia. And guess what? Historical scholarship does show that Islam spread to those regions largely through trade and missionary work. In fact, Indonesia is the largest country in the world with a mostly Muslim population. Muslim armies didn’t conquer Indonesia, Malaysia or other countries throughout that region of the world. Islam spread throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa the same way — through traders and Muslim missionaries.

For McLeroy, however, history is black and white: either Islam spread through conquest (as it actually did in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe), or it didn’t. History is far more complicated than that. After all, Christianity spread throughout much of the Americas through European conquest, forced conversion of native populations and colonization. But Christianity also spread through trade and missionary work.

Look, we don’t point all this out to pick on Don McLeroy. We are simply noting what is clearly obvious to most Texans (72 percent of them, actually, as our May 2010 poll showed): teachers and scholars should be deciding what students learn in our public schools, not politicians who are more interested in promoting their own personal opinions and agendas than in basing education on facts and sound scholarship. If you agree, join our Just Educate campaign to reform the State Board of Education and keep politics out of our children’s classrooms.

7 thoughts on “More Bad History from Don McLeroy

  1. Why not pick on Don McLeroy? He deserves to be picked on – and voted OUT! However, given the conservative demographics of Texas that’s not likely to happen.

    Your statement (“72% of Texans [believe that] teachers and scholars should be deciding what students learn in our public schools, not politicians who are more interested in promoting their own personal opinions and agendas than in basing education on facts and sound scholarship”) contadicts the fact that conservatives outnumber moderates on the TX SBOE 2:1.

    This leaves me scratching my head and wondering: so which is it?

  2. Anthropologically speaking, TFN is correct. Throughout human history, cultural changes, which includes changes in religion, have occurred as a result of military activity (be it arrow or gun) and the diffusion of cultural influences across trading networks (be they simple trails through the woods, super highways, or airplane routes). One thing we have learned in the last 60 years of our research is that even ancient trade networks dating back thousands of years were far flung, covered great distances, and were vibrant arteries of human activity, communication, and exchange. The notion that Islam, or any other religion, has advanced solely by military conquest is historical and anthropological “fruitcake-speak.” Speaking of which, the Christmas season will be upon us before we know it. Just think of all those tiny pieces of candied fruit mummified in flour with dark rum.

    Did I ever tell you about my Aunt Delia? I don’t think she was a conservative, but she lived out the modern far right conservative ideal. She was never married and gave no indication one way or another if she was gay. She certainly never engaged in any gay sexual activity. She worked hard all of her adult life in a shoe factory where she got paid minimum wage or barely over it. She breathed high concentrations of organic chemicals all day long in that factory—horrible-smelling place—like living in a bottle of liquid ether. It had no union, and the owners treated her and the other workers like stools in a toilet. She was a Christian and a member of the Church of Christ in her later years.

    Her poor mother (my grandmother) got sick in 1959 and had no place to go. There was no Medicare or Medicaid at that time, so my Aunt Delia took her into her broken-down rental house and nursed her for quite a long time. Delia endured great suffering. Her bosses at work did not like it because she had to leave her job to do it. With no income coming in, no health insurance, enough savings to buy an 8 oz. Coca-Cola in the old bottle, and her mother’s social security check, she nursed her mother as best she could until other relatives in Indiana were able to take over. She did the same when her similarly poor sister was dying from complications of juvenile onset Type I diabetes.

    Mother had taught all of the girls how to cook wonderful food, and Aunt Delia was a master at it. She could take a little bit of carefully bought groceries, carve them up, and send them on extraordinary culinary journeys. Mother had also taught the girls how to do sewing, crochet, and knitting—not the kind people do now—the kind people did in 1879. Delia was a master at it. When the husband of one of her sisters died, Delia took her grieving sister into her rental home. She knew how to sew too. While keeping her slave-labor, pay-nearly-nothing job at the shoe factory, Delia and her sister made home-made pattern clothing and other cloth articles on the side for the wealthier women in town. This brought in just enough extra money that the two sisters were able to scrape together the down payment on a cheap little pink house with a huge yard. The house and yard probably cost every bit of $4000 dollars in 1964, and it took quite a bit of time to pay it off.

    Delia loved that little house. She was always dusting, rearranging her cheap furniture, painting, cooking, sewing, mowing, and gardening. Time passed by. The live-in sister got married again and moved out. The slave-like job came to an end on her 65th birthday. Suddenly, for the first time in her life, she had health insurance (Medicare). What about that? To the best of my recollection, she rarely visited a doctor even after medicare became available. At some point along the line, her roof started leaking and she had to get a new roof. She was really concerned because she only had $5000 in her savings account. Rather than beg, borrow, or steal, she paid for the new roof, which probably left very little in her savings account. Did I mention that she lived out her retirement years on a $400 per month social security check and a little bit of sewing money? That was it. Try that at your house sometime.

    I lived far away but came home sometimes. When Aunt Delia was 79, I made a trip home and carried her out to dinner. She was so happy that evening because she lived alone and rarely had any company. The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer arrived the next day–out of the blue—no warning—no suspicions—no clear precursor signals. Remember those all-day organic vapors in the shoe factory? Her body was unable to tolerate the chemotherapy, and she died a couple of months later in the cold of January.

    This brings me back full circle to fruitcake. Every conservative in Texas would have patted Aunt Delia on the back and give her an award for living out a lifetime the way they think she should have—the way they think we all should. Aunt Delia would have none of it. She did not like their kind very much—not tough enough—not true pioneer stock like her. It is easy for far-right conservative fruitcakes to sit back all comfy on their couches, watch their $5000 per week paycheck and investment returns arrive, and tell total strangers how they should live their lives according to the ideological pattern these fruitcakes set for them. Truth is, if most of them had had to live like my Aunt Delia did for a lifetime, they would quite likely be dead, insane, or in prison. You know it, and I know it. My Aunt Delia worked hard all of her life and died poor by nearly anyone’s economic standard.

    However, I have hope for my Aunt Delia. For all Christians, the Christian fundamentalists believe that there are rewards and denials in heaven based on what you do (or more usually do not do) in this life. Some will sit at the head of the table with Jesus and others at the foot. Fair enough. The Lord said that there would be many mansions in heaven and that he had reserved one for my Aunt Delia—probably pink in color like that cheap little house she loved so much. Always in good taste and a tireless worker for justice, the good Lord declined to mention the high probability that the owners of the shoe factory, Dave Welch, and Don McLeroy may be waiting on my Aunt Delia hand and foot as servants in that mansion for all eternity. Yes, living the good American conservative lifestyle like my Aunt Delia did certainly has its rewards.

    Fruitcake? My Aunt Delia did not make fruitcake at Christmas. Perhaps the fixings were too expensive. As already mentioned, she was able to send simple foods on great culinary adventures. For example, train your mind on the candy aisle at your local grocery store. Do you remember candy orange slices? There is nothing fruity about them. They are stiffly gelatinous candy, covered in granular sugar and sporting a strong orange taste. My Aunt Delia would slice those up, combine them with other ingredients, and make an orange slice cake as good as or better than any fruitcake on this planet—even better than Christine O’Donnell or Babs Bachman.

    Although Aunt Delia no longer remains on this Earth, her orange slice cake recipe lives on. If no one at TFN objects, I will leave Aunt Delia’s Orange Slice Cake recipe for all of you on my next post. She loved to share her cooking with other people—even though she had little. Note how orange slice cake loves and shares with its fellow man. Note how fruitcakes refrain from sharing. Living fruitcakes beware. If you use this recipe, Aunt Delia may show up with the ghost of Christmas past on December 24th. Long past? No!!! Your past!!!

  3. Thank you, Charles. I am glad to know about your Aunt Delia, and I’d be proud to have her cake recipe. Orange slices are a family tradition in my family, too; that candy was a favorite that my Aunt Norma, who had much in common with your aunt, and I shared.

  4. TFN, thanks for the fact-finding. I must have confused Don McLeroy with another current member of the conservative block, Ken Mercer. HE is still there (darn it). And likely to remain there.

    Charles, I always love reading your autobiographical postings. Although my maternal grandma never worked outside her home after marriage, your Aunt Delia reminds me very much of stories my mother told me about her mother.

    I too would love to copy your Aunt Delia’s Orange Slice Cake recipe. Coincidentally, someone brought a big bowl of candied orange slices (the usual kind you buy in a bag) to an adult class at Temple I attend on Wednesday nights, along with two different kinds of popcorn. I hadn’t eaten candied orange slices in years!