The Texas Tea Party provides another good example of how David Barton’s poor scholarship (if you can call it scholarship) isn’t just bad for public education – it also fosters falsehoods and distortions throughout our civic life.
One of the links on the Tea Party Web site asks: “What of our Christian Heritage?” Visitors then go to a page that lists a half-dozen quotes attributed to the Founders, each quote suggesting that America’s Founders wanted to create a Christian nation.
One problem, of course, is that the Tea Party is cherry-picking and taking out of context quotations favorable to their point of view. Even worse, however, is that some of the statements the Tea Partiers attribute to the Founders appear to be fraudulent. In fact, two are among a long list of quotes that Barton has used in the past (supporting his “Christian nation” argument) even though he admits that neither he nor real historians can point to evidence that the Founders ever said them.
From the Texas Tea Party Web site:
James Madison, the fourth president, known as “The Father of Our Constitution” made the following statement:
“We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
Patrick Henry, that patriot and Founding Father of our country said:
“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians, not on religions but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Both quotations are bogus, and both are on Barton’s list of false quotes that he once presented as true history. This is a classic case of how bad history gets accepted as fact in popular culture, especially when people are pushing a political agenda.
Barton’s defense, of course, would be that he has acknowledged his error in using those unsubstantiated quotes in his writings and speeches. He also suggests that, while Madison and Henry probably didn’t say these things, they could have because their other writings and statements included similar ideas, particularly in the case of Madison. But that’s simply an opinion not shared by respected scholars of American history. In any case, we continue to see the quotes pop up when some pressure group or another promotes the lie that the Founders wanted a nation with laws based on the Christian Bible (instead of a nation based on the principle of keeping government out of the religious affairs of the people).
And all of this shows why it was so reckless and irresponsible for State Board of Education members to appoint Barton — who has no formal training as a social scientist — as an “expert” historian to help decide what nearly 5 million Texas students learn in their public schools. When it comes to Barton’s “research,” the lesson is clear: garbage in, garbage out. Unfortunately, that kind of garbage gets recycled over and over again.