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Revisionism: How to Identify It In Your Children's Textbooks
David Barton - 01/2005

Revisionism is the common method employed by those seeking to subvert American culture and society. The dictionary defines revisionism as an “advocacy of the revision of an accepted, usually long-standing view, theory, or doctrine; especially a revision of historical events and movements.

Revisionism attempts to alter the way a people views its history and traditions in order to cause that people to accept a change in public policy. For example, during the 150 years that textbooks described the Founding Fathers as being devout men and Christians who actively practiced their faith, civic policy embraced and welcomed public religious expressions. But in recent years as the same Founders have come to be portrayed as atheists, agnostics, and deists who were opposed to religious activities, public policies have similarly been reversed.

Revisionists generally accomplish their goal of rewriting history by:

Underemphasizing or ignoring the aspects of American history they deem to be politically incorrect and overemphasizing those portions they find acceptable;

Vilifying the historical figures who embraced a position they reject; and

Concocting the appearance of widespread historical approval for the social policy they are attempting to advance.

There are many means that are used by revisionists to accomplish these goals but the most common include:

1. Patent Untruths
Numerous history texts make claims such as: our “national government was secular from top to bottom,” or that the Founders “reared a national government on a secular basis.” Those who have studied the American Founding know that this is a patent untruth — proved by numbers of Founders, including John Adams, who declared: “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.” (Even the text of the Declaration of Independence refutes any charges of government secularism.) This approach usually relies on a general lack of public knowledge about that untruth; consequently, such untruthful claims are rarely made in areas where citizens have broad general knowledge (such as claiming that James Madison used an atomic bomb to end the Civil War, or that the first sub-machine gun was developed in 1536 in Nevada by the Quakers). Revisionism relies on a lack of citizen knowledge in specific areas.

2. Overly Broad Generalizations
This revisionist tool presents the exception as if it were the rule. For example, texts often name Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine as proof of the lack of religiosity among the Founders yet fail to mention the rest of the almost 200 Founding Fathers — including the dozens of Founders who not only received their education in schools specializing in the training of ministers of the Gospel but who also were active in Christian ministry and organizations (e.g., John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Rush, Roger Sherman, et. al).

Similarly, when discussing religion in America, the Salem Witch trials are universally presented; but rarely mentioned are the positive societal changes produced by Quakers, Baptists, Presbyterians, and dozen of other religious groups and organizations that worked for the abolition of slavery, secured religious freedoms for all, and fought to end societal abuses of all types. (Also never mentioned is that the American witch trials resulted in some two dozen deaths — and were halted by religious leaders, while the European witch trials resulted in 100,000; that is, American Christianity at that time might not have been perfect but it was light years ahead of both the Christianity practiced in Europe and the European secularism that resulted in 40,000 executions in the French Revolution.)

3. Omission
Notice the following three examples from American history works:

We whose names are under-written . . . do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politick. MAYFLOWER COMPACT, 1620

Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? . . . I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death? PATRICK HENRY, 1775

. . . ART. I.—His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States . . . PEACE TREATY TO END THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, 1783

What was omitted from these important historical quotes?

We whose names are under-written having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colonie in the Northern parts of Virginia do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politick.

Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death?

In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts . . . ART. I.—His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States . . .

The omitted segments are those that indicate the strongly religious nature of American government documents and leaders. Also regularly omitted from texts is the fact that gratitude to God was central to the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving — and the fact that in 1782, the Congress of the United States was responsible for America's first English-language Bible; and that in 1800, Congress voted that on Sundays, the Capitol Building would serve as a church building and that by 1867, the largest protestant church in America was the one that met inside the U. S. Capitol; etc.

4. A Lack of Primary Source References
The avoidance of primary-source documents is characteristic in revisionism. For example, the authors of the widely-used text The Godless Constitution blatantly announce that they have “dispensed with the usual scholarly apparatus of footnotes” when discussing the documentation for their thesis that America’s government is built on a secular foundation. Similarly, the text The Search for Christian America purports to examine the Founding Era and finds a distinct lack of Christian influence. Yet 80 percent of the “historical sources” on which it relies to document its finding were published after 1950! That is, to determine what was occurring in the 1700s, they quote from works printed in the 1900s.

Summary
To locate revisionism in a text, look at its tone, the documents it presents, and the heroes it elevates.

  1. To discover a revisionist tone, find the answers to these questions in the textbook: Is exploration and colonization motivated only by the desire for land or gold? Are those who promoted religious and moral values portrayed as harsh, punitive, and intolerant? Is traditional family ignored? Is government presented as statist — that is, that the state (rather than individuals, families, churches, or communities) is to take care of society's needs? Is there a victim ideology — a steady diet of those who have been exploited throughout history rather than those who have uplifted their culture? Are other religions portrayed positively and Christianity negatively (if at all)?
  2. Are original documents presented? (Do students see the actual text or only what someone else says about it?) Do they see the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, George Washington's “Farewell Address,” and Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address? Are the documents heavily edited to present only a sentence or two or do they provide a substantive amount of text?
  3. Who are the heroes presented? Do they tend to be angry - fighting an unjust society or government? Do they tend to be modern heroes only? Do they tend to be only secular leaders? For example, the U. S. Capitol displays some 100 statues of the most important individuals in America's history; a significant percentage of those statues are of ministers and Christian leaders. Will your children receive in their textbooks at least the same view of American heroes that is presented in America's pre-eminent government building?

When examining a text, always remember that your children do not know as much about history as you do and consequently have no basis for identifying bias. Therefore, examine each text as if you knew nothing at all about history except what is presented in that text; on that basis, will you be pleased with the tone toward America inculcated in your child through that text? If not, then urge your school to get a better text or be diligent to supplement for your children what is missing or wrongly presented in the text.

It is not melodramatic to state that America's future rests on what is taught to our children, for as Abraham Lincoln wisely observed:

The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next. (attributed)

Famous American educator Noah Webster therefore rightly admonished:

The education of youth should be watched with the most scrupulous attention. . . . [It] lays the foundations on which both law and gospel rest for success.

Indeed!

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