Eating My Words (while Uncovering My Eyes)

Heather Cox Richardson

A while back, when the Texas curriculum flap was in full swing, I wrote about the Texas legislature’s potential undercutting of the curriculum committee that was pushing Texas history standards so far to the right. The legislature had voted to permit schools to spend money allotted for curriculum materials on non-textbook sources. That might actually help, rather than hurt, American history, I wrote, as schools turned to the free primary sources available on the web rather than being tied to the textbook choices of the radicals on the curriculum committee.

Today I fess up to my naiveté. There was a completely different way to approach this funding change, and it’s now underway. It is a way that raises troubling educational issues, but also, perhaps, even more disturbing political ones.

On Wednesday evening, former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee announced his new educational company, “Learn Our History.” The company’s mission is to “combat major shortcomings in current methods of teaching American history.” It claims it will tell “America’s most influential stories, without the filters or biases that too often infiltrate history and social studies classes across the country today.” The company’s first product is a new video series of cartoons about American history: “The Time Travel Academy Video Series.” The series features time-traveling teenagers who visit important events in the nation’s past.

Governor Huckabee’s promotional materials begin with a full-throated attack on history teachers that echoes the Texas curriculum committee. History today is “force-fed” to students “through dry text books, monotonous lectures and boring lessons,” the website announces. Worse, “our children's classes and learning materials are often filled with misrepresentations, including historical inaccuracies, personal biases and political correctness.” Huckabee’s walk-on website character amplifies: “When it comes to American history, our nation is facing an epidemic. Schools across the country have turned their backs on our children by distorting facts, imposing political biases, and changing the message behind the important lessons of our history. As a result, our children aren’t learning what makes America great.”

The video series will combat this travesty with “unbiased” history, promising “to correct the ‘blame America first’ attitude prevalent in today’s teaching.” It celebrates America’s greatness and recognizes and celebrates “faith, religion and the role of God in America's founding and making our country the greatest place on Earth.” The first video available is “The Reagan Revolution.” The second is about World War II.

It should come as no surprise that the lead scholarly advisor to the series is Larry Schweikart, author of 48 Liberal Lies about American History, and A Patriot’s History of the United States, one of Glenn Beck’s favorite history books.

So my sunny optimism that the Texas curriculum funding law would bring primary sources and honest historical inquiry into Texas classrooms was probably naïve.

But now my training as a political historian makes me see something more than an educational culture war in this struggle. Here’s why: The videos are designed partly for the huge Christian homeschooling market, but also for classroom use. Apparently,* they cost $19.95 (plus $3.95 shipping and handling). The website promises that the company envisions more than seventy-five of them.

If they do become a staple in Texas schools, which make up the nation’s largest curriculum market, Governor Huckabee’s new company looks to do pretty well.

Governor Huckabee, of course, is a current front-runner for the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

While I hasten to say that I can’t imagine that anyone in the Texas legislature foresaw the way this has played out, doesn’t the Texas curriculum law, plus the new video series, plus Governor Huckabee’s candidacy equal a situation in which public school funds can be funneled to a specific political candidate?

Kind of flies in the face of the company’s purported mission to keep public schools from “imposing political biases,” doesn’t it?

* The cost is a little hard to figure out from the website, and calling the company telephone number didn’t yield a person.