Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fea on the Barton & Marshall Controversy:

John Fea has an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle on the David Barton, Peter Marshall Texas Public Education history controversy. A taste:

Both Marshall and Barton suggest removing Anne Hutchinson from the curriculum. Marshall describes her as a woman who “didn't accomplish anything except getting herself exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for making trouble.”

The conservative reviewers are not happy that Texas students are learning about Cesar Chavez, a Mexican-American labor leader and civil rights activist. Marshall's report states that Chavez “is hardly the kind of role model that ought to be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation.”

Of course, a strong argument could be made for the inclusion of both Hutchinson and Chavez. It could even be advanced from the perspective of the Christian faith that Marshall and Barton hold dear.

Hutchinson, for example, boldly stood before John Winthrop and defended liberty of conscience in matters of religion. Chavez's labor activism was informed by his Catholicism.

But there is a bigger issue at stake here. It goes beyond the debate over who is “in” and who is “out.” It is the place of history in a school curriculum.

The study of history develops civic awareness and provides us with heroes from the past that we can look up to. This is the kind of history that Barton and Marshall want to promote. This kind of search for a useful past makes sense. Our natural inclination is to find something familiar in history — something that affirms our own convictions in the present.

Historians know, however, that not all of the past is familiar or useful. Not all of the past serves our present-day agendas.

Yet we must study it.

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