No to Grammar, But Yes to John Wayne?

David Barton is complaining about a bogus “war on Christmas” in proposed new social studies curriculum standards, but what about his “war on grammar”? And Barton has also complained that too many “insignificant” historial figures have been included in the standards, crowding out people he thinks are more important. So why is he proposing that students be required to study John Wayne, Cecil B. DeMille and Jimmy Stewart?

Those are just a couple of the absurdities we found in Barton’s review of the first draft of the proposed standards for Texas public schools. There are plenty of others.

First, Barton opposes a standard requiring that students “use standard grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and punctuation” when writing about social studies topics. He insists that such a standard is more appropriate for an English or reading class and should be removed from social studies.

Really? Does Barton not understand that educators know how important it is to reinforce and build grammar, spelling and punctuation skills throughout the school curriculum? We’re sure he does, which makes his suggestion all the more silly. Of course, when curriculum writers suggest that Easter but not Christmas be listed as an example of Christianity in a standard about holidays in various world religions, the religious right cynically claims that they are engaging in a phony “war on Christmas” and attacking America’s Christian heritage. But what about Barton’s “war on grammar”?

Barton also undermines his own complaints that curriculum writers are promoting personal biases by including historical figures in the standards he thinks aren’t appropriate, such as Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall. He also argues in his review of the first draft of the standards that individuals who are still alive or who have only recently died shouldn’t be in the standards. The standards should instead include “more historically notable individuals.”

So who does Barton want students to study in their high school U.S. history course? He suggests movie actors John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart as well as Cecil B. DeMille, who directed iconic Hollyood films like The Ten Commandments, The King of Kings, The Sign of the Cross and more secular-themed films like The Plainsman and The Greatest Show on Earth. Barton writes:

“(A)ll of (them) used their talents to be social leaders (or societal leaders and spokesmen) advocating Americanism, admiration for the Constitution, and respect for the military.”

Well, we suppose Barton thinks Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall did none of that. Maybe they should have gone into the movie business instead.

Some other points Barton makes in his review:

  • U.S. history students should learn that George Washington was saved from death by a God’s direct intervention during the French and Indian War, with Barton proposing a standard about “the providential preservation of (Washington’s) life during the Battle of Monongahela.”
  • Barton says a standard that has second-graders learning about different “ethnic and/or cultural celebrations in their local community” simpy “represents multi-cultural diviseness” and “is patently ridiculous” because all students already “know that we have various ethnic groups with difference among them.”
  • Barton is also critical of a standard that has Grade 6 students “analyze the efforts and activities institutions use to sustain themselves over time such as compulsory education developing an informed citizenry or religions using monumental architecture to transcend time.” The phrase “compulsory education,” Barton complains, “suggests that only government-run public schools can sustain American institutions.”
  • Barton elevates the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to the level of NASA, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Communications Commission in a standard that has government students analyzing “the purpose of selected independent agencies.”
  • Barton also reveals his own political biases, in one place even suggesting that students “identify the benefits of the Electoral College System.” In fact, whether or not that system should be changed is a matter of political debate, with some arguing that there are a number of important disadvantages (such as the election of presidents who fail to win even a plurality of the popular vote of the American people).

Barton will have the opportunity to expand on his suggestions when he speaks to the Texas State Board of Education during a discussion of the social studies standards on Thursday.

5 thoughts on “No to Grammar, But Yes to John Wayne?

  1. You’ve got to be kidding. John Wayne? I hope other educators are following this as closely as I am and refuse to re-elect the board members who nominated these bozos as “experts.”

  2. TFN said that David Barton feels:

    “U.S. history students should learn that George Washington was saved from death by a God’s direct intervention during the French and Indian War, with Barton proposing a standard about “the providential preservation of (Washington’s) life during the Battle of Monongahela.”

    I have read this story elsewhere, and it sounds fishy to me—like the cherry tree and silver dollar (which by the way did not exist when he was a kid). The 1800s books for children are full of these dubious stories, and it is a known fact that their authors often tried to romanticize and fantasize American history to make the books more lively for children.

    Washington may indeed have written to his brother that he had felt protected by divine providence in battle. However, I would bet my last dime that every American soldier who survived Iwo Jima would have said exactly the same thing—and probably the Soviet citizens and soldiers who survived the defense of Stalingrad as well.

    Some plains American Indians believed that ritual ceremonies could render them impervious to bullets in battle, especially near the end of the 1800s when assorted messianic movements were showing up among their last ditch defenders. However, I am not aware of whether any such ritual traditions existed for northeastern American Indian tribes.

    Paul Begala has a phrase that he uses pretty often: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Along these lines, I would like to show all of you how the Christian Neo-Fundamentalist homeschool learning materials treat American history. This is how they want the history books to read in our public schools. You might call this the ultimate Barton-Dreisbach-Marshall goal for an appropriate American history curriculum. It is an attempt to take the facts of American history and baptize them with “WE BELIEVE.” The problem is that “we believe” is an opinion rather than a historical fact. It is a well-known fact that Washington and his men crossed the Delaware River in iron boats to attack the Hessian garrison at Princeton on Christmas morning. A statement like: “…and the hand of the Lord upheld the body of Henry Knox to keep his obesity from sinking his iron boat…” is an opinion. Take a look at the following Christian Neo-Fundamentalist ideal for a lesson in American history—–and cringe:

  3. Charles, I started cringing before I clicked. And you were right-yikes. The beginning, quoting Calvin’s opinions of how leaders who don’t toe the divine line, must be thrown out on their ears, is followed by this:

    “Thus, the colonists believed that it was their duty to oppose a tyranny that violated God’s law and the concept of Christian freedom. This was the spiritual resolve that led the leaders of the colonies to write the Declaration of Independence.”

    I assume that that the author, in quoting Calvin, is referring to the Separatists. That’s one heck of a stretch to include the writers of the DofI.

  4. So, Barton wants students to be taught that God saved George Washington from being killed or wounded, along with about 400 other British and colonial soldiers, at the Battle of Monongahela so that George Washington could one day become our first president. The medieval political theory that God selected the leader of a nation (The Divine Right of Kings) was abhorrent to our nation’s founding fathers. So much so that Thomas Jefferson inserted the words “all men are created equal” into the Declaration of Independence specifically to refute that theory. He also wrote in the same document that governments derive “their just power from the consent of the governed” just to make it absolutely clear that God had nothing to do with it. If the wing-nuts believe God chose George Washington to lead our country, He must have been alseep at the switch when Barack Obama was elected. Barton can teach whatever crackpot religious theories he wants in Sunday school but when our children go to tax-supported public schools they should learn real history.

  5. Please Lord, deliver us from those who do wacko things in your name. What an embarrassment to our state and nation. Used to always feel proud to be a native Texan, but these guys are starting to make me hang my head in shame.