Texas Education Board Candidate: The Pilgrims Were Communists!

by Jose Medina

Informal rule of the Internet: If you Google what you think sounds like a wild historical claim and the first hit leads you to websites from conspiracy theorists and historical revisionists, your instincts are probably correct.

Take, for example, a wild claim by Gail Spurlock, R-Richardson, who is running for her party’s nomination for the District 12 seat on the Texas State Board of Education. There’s plenty to dissect in the videos, but we’ll start today with Spurlock’s outrageous claim that the Pilgrims who settled in America in the early 1600s were — wait for it — communists!

Here’s what Spurlock had to say when asked about the controversial social studies curriculum standards passed the state board’s far-right members in 2010:

Those of us who dug into it, I was horrified at the false information that I had and the missing information from my own education. I didn’t know, for instance, that when the Pilgrims set up their little community – first of all, they were required to be communist. That was in their charter. Communism is that old. It was mandatory. And as a result of that half the people died in the first year. They opened up the Bible, and said “Oh, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” They turned it into a free market system and they took off and flourished from there.

Here’s the clip:

(The full video is here.)

Right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, have been peddling the idea that Pilgrims attempted communism, were almost destroyed because of it, but were saved when they — as Spurlock puts it — embraced free markets.

It’s a nice narrative if you’re a historical revisionist. But it’s not true. As the New York Times has reported:

Historians say that the settlers in Plymouth, and their supporters in England, did indeed agree to hold their property in common — William Bradford, the governor, referred to it in his writings as the “common course.” But the plan was in the interest of realizing a profit sooner, and was only intended for the short term; historians say the Pilgrims were more like shareholders in an early corporation than subjects of socialism.

“It was directed ultimately to private profit,” said Richard Pickering, a historian of early America and the deputy director of Plimoth Plantation, a museum devoted to keeping the Pilgrims’ story alive.

The arrangement did not produce famine. If it had, Bradford would not have declared the three days of sport and feasting in 1621 that became known as the first Thanksgiving. “The celebration would never have happened if the harvest was going to be less than enough to get them by,” Mr. Pickering said. “They would have saved it and rationed it to get by.”

It’s one thing when professional entertainers like Limbaugh and Beck distort history. But Spurlock is seeking election to a board that guides what millions of Texas kids learn in their public schools.

Also, it’s worth pointing out a couple of other things about Spulock’s statements here. First, she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the new social studies curriculum standards. Yet even the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute disagrees, describing the new standards for American history as “a political distortion of history” with “misrepresentations at every turn.”

Second, Spurlock apparently thinks the general public is, well, dumb (and even talks as if she had served on the board at the time the social studies standards were adopted):

“No, we were restoring history. But there weren’t enough people in the public who were well educated enough to recognize that.”

Stay tuned here for more about what Spurlock and the other candidates had to say to the North Texas Council.

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