The Washington Monthly has an interesting article on what happens when a state, in this case Texas, brings in a bunch of social conservatives with no relevant scholarly historical expertise to weigh in on the content of public school textbooks. In addition to the usual creationism intelligent design nonsense, you get stuff like this:
On the global front, [David] Barton and company [on the textbook advisory board] want textbooks to play up clashes with Islamic cultures, particularly where Muslims were the aggressors, and to paint them as part of an ongoing battle between the West and Muslim extremists. Barton argues, for instance, that the Barbary wars, a string of skirmishes over piracy that pitted America against Ottoman vassal states in the 1800s, were the “original war against Islamic Terrorism.”
Before you laugh at that, as you obviously should, understand that this is the exact argument offered by neoconservative historian and current Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren in his 2007 book Power, Faith, and Fantasy, which is probably where Barton picked it up. Here’s how Oren put it in an interview with journalist Michael Totten:
[M]any of the same issues that Americans are facing today in the Middle East were confronted by America’s founding fathers — Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington. For example, they had to confront the issue of state-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East. They had to face a threat to the United States, and decide whether to generate military power and then project that power thousands of miles from the United States. They had to decide whether to involve the United States in an open-ended and rather expensive bloody war in the Middle East. This was, of course, the Barbary War, America’s first overseas military engagement and America’s longest overseas military engagement. It lasted from 1783 to 1815. During the course of this engagement, as my book shows, the United States was confronting a jihadist state-sponsored terrorist network that was taking Americans hostage in the Middle East. It’s very similar to what is going on today.
See, the Barbary Pirates were Muslims. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Iran — also Muslims! Ergo, it’s all the same war and we must stand with Israel against the Barbary Pirates.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a joke. As the article notes, “when it comes to textbooks, what happens in Texas rarely stays in Texas.”
The reasons for this are economic: Texas is the nation’s second-largest textbook market and one of the few biggies where the state picks what books schools can buy rather than leaving it up to the whims of local districts, which means publishers that get their books approved can count on millions of dollars in sales. As a result, the Lone Star State has outsized influence over the reading material used in classrooms nationwide, since publishers craft their standard textbooks based on the specs of the biggest buyers. As one senior industry executive told me, “Publishers will do whatever it takes to get on the Texas list.”
It seems like a really bad idea to let the market determine the history we teach our children.