Not Impressed with Right-Wing “Scholarship”

I recently stumbled upon a preview of a video purporting to teach children about the 1980s.

Given that the site is endorsed by Mike Huckabee, who once said that every American should be forced at gunpoint to watch David Barton, and since Barton belongs to the “make stuff up” school of historical research, you can understand why I was a bit suspicious.

So in Learn Our History’s video, The Reagan Revolution, Reagan says

God had a plan for America. I see it as a shining city on a hill. If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be one nation gone under.

Right off the bat, that sounded like something Saint Ronald would say, rather than Ronald Reagan the mere mortal whom I remember. The “shining city on a hill” bit was easy to find: it’s from the Reagan-Anderson debate in Baltimore, Sep. 21, 1980. But it’s neither preceded by “God had a plan for America”, nor followed by “If we ever forget…”. So clearly this was assembled from multiple sources.

When I searched for “one nation gone under”, I found it used a lot, and attributed to Reagan, but never with a source I could look up. So I figured I’d use the direct approach and ask Learn Our History. I haven’t heard back. But that’s probably just because their office is in Connecticut, and they’re too busy fighting off the blue state hordes who want to destroy our way of life, to answer my questions.

So my next step was to look up their Council of Masters, who “suggest changes to make the film as historically accurate as possible.” The Masters are Larry Schweikart (apparently a favorite of Glenn Beck’s), Daniel Mahoney, Alan Corlew, and Andrew Howell. Most of them, you won’t be surprised to learn, work in Christian colleges or “colleges”.

I haven’t heard back from Corlew or Howell. The first response I got was from Schweikart:

http://churchvstate.blogspot.com/2008/10/one-nation-under-god-ronald-reagan.html

National Prayer Breakfast. Obviously, they put the two quotations together, but Reagan did say it.

LS

Okay, that allowed me to find the quotation in a reputable source. But still, a blog? Are these the sources that Huckabee’s organization uses to ensure historical accuracy? Seriously?

So I asked Schweikart about it:

Thank you. I was able to use that to find it in a reliable source. I hope this doesn’t mean that the Learn Our History project relies on blogs for historical information.

To which I got this response:

I don’t care who they rely on if it’s accurate. But, fwiw, I cannot and do not check every citation or quotation. My goal is to make sure the overall gist of the episodes is correct, that they interpret the history fairly, and so on. I assume (as with any tv series) they have fact checkers for the other stuff.
LS

Which raised some obvious questions:

Thank you, but now I’m confused: the “How We Develop Each Video” page at learnourhistory.com ( http://learnourhistory.com/go.cfm?do=Page.View&pid=28 ) gave me the impression that you were one of the fact-checkers.

It’s also not obvious to me how you can check that the episodes interpret history fairly unless the authors provide you with a bibliography to allow you to verify that the quotations used in the video are used fairly, and in context.

And speaking of which, it seems odd that the video should present three different quotations strung together into one, without so much as a cut to hint that they are from different speeches in different years (the caption on the screen says “New Hampshire September 1980” throughout, even though the Reagan-Anderson debate was in Baltimore, MD, and the prayer breakfast you cited was in Dallas in 1984).

I realize that a children’s cartoon is not held to the same standards as other publications, but given how much emphasis learnourhistory.com places on historical accuracy, I would have expected better.

To which he replied:

Ok, well, it’s called artistic license—anything used in educational AND entertainment has to have certain flexibility. Think “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” at Disneyland. I personally wouldn’t hook things together under one date, but I can see how in the context of not interrupting the flow you do things like that.

As for anything else, the answers to your questions are very simple: it’s a for-pay product. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

LS

Which I guess means “there’s a free market of ideas. If you don’t like our truth, there are others.” A sort of postmodernist capitalism, I suppose. Unless it simply means “bugger off”.

Here’s what I got from Mahoney (some information removed to protect people’s privacy):


Dear Mr. Arensburger,
                        You’ll want to take a look at the place on the site entitled  "How we develop our history" http://learnourhistory.com/go.cfm?do=Page.View&pid=28
It says explicitly that "given that the Time Travel Academy is an animated children’s series about a fictitious group of time travelers, we sometimes make slight modifications to the presentation of historical events.  For example, steps are taken (such as paraphrasing) in order to condense the history into an appropriate length for young viewers." The aim is veracity and accessibility for the young with paraphrasing sometimes serving that purpose.
                        Hope this helps.

                            Regards,
                                        Prof. Daniel J. Mahoney
       

On Mon, May 16, 2011 at 2:23 PM, Mahoney, Daniel (Political Science) […] wrote:

Dear Brad,
          You’ll want to take a look at the message below. If you got that
quotation from the internet it may indeed be apocryphal even if it conveys
Reagan’s idea perfectly well.
         I’m attaching an up-to-date scholarly profile of myself (the one
you linked to is seven years old and doesn’t include any of my recent
publications–I’m also 120 pounds heavier in that picture!!). Could you
please replace the old link with the new one below?

http://www1.assumption.edu/media-sources/forums/index.php?showtopic=84

                            Best,
                                  Dan

—— Forwarded Message
From: Andrew Arensburger <arensb@youshouldbeabletofigureit.out>
Date: Mon, 16 May 2011 11:56:31 -0400
To: [Daniel Mahoney]
Subject: Help tracking down a quotation

 Dear Dr. Mahoney,
 I am writing you because you are listed at
http://learnourhistory.com/go.cfm?do=Page.View&pid=28
as one of the historians reviewing the "Time Travel Academy" video
series. I hope you can help me track down a quotation used in one of
them.
 In the video "The Reagan Revolution" (
http://learnourhistory.com/go.cfm?do=Video.Play&vid=1 )
president Reagan is quoted as saying,

 "God had a plan for America. I see it as a shining city on a
        hill. If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then
        we will be one nation gone under."

I was able to trace "I see it as a shining city on a hill" to
then-candidate Reagan’s debate with John Anderson, but have been
unable to find where and when "If we ever forget that we are one
nation under God, then we will be one nation gone under".
 This quotation appears often on the Internet, but without
attribution. I was unable to find it at the Ronald Reagan Presidential
Library.
 Since you reviewed the video for historical accuracy, I hope
you can help me track it down.

 Thank you,


Andrew Arensburger                      http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/
[…]
      "Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing."

—— End of Forwarded Message


Bradley Saft
Learn Our History LLC
Office: XXX-XXX-XXXX
Cell: XXX-XXX-XXXX
xxxx@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.com

—— End of Forwarded Message

I’m in the Eastern time zone, and so is Assumption College, where Mahoney works. So if I’m reading this message correctly, it was my original message that prompted Mahoney to write to Brad, saying that the Reagan quote in the video was questionable. Um, wasn’t it their job to check this stuff before the video was made?

So forgive me for being less than impressed by the quality of this outfit’s “research”. You can make anyone say anything you like, with this sort of Frankenquote. Messrs “historians”, allow me to close with a Bible quotation:

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. Go and do likewise.
Matt 27:5, Luke 10:37

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9 Responses to Not Impressed with Right-Wing “Scholarship”

  1. Fez says:

    Didn’t you once have an entry here titled something akin to, “The Longest Ellipsis in the World”? While that one, IIRC, spanned scores of pages of the cited work did it also span ~4 years of time?

    Like

  2. Troublesome Frog says:

    You’ll find that economic research from that wing is often of similar quality. Best graph ever.

    I have always been amazed that Kevin Hassett still has a job anywhere. It’s a testament to the quality of work that comes out of “think tanks” in general.

    Like

    • arensb says:

      Oh, dear.
      It’s almost as if he had decided in advance what the correct solution was, and worked backwards from that to some data that he could bludgen into supporting his conclusion. Almost like a creationist. Or a climate change denier. Or a Randbot. Or…

      Like

  3. Alan Corlew says:

    Yes, I am the Corlew in question in the comments above. I had been in preliminary talks with the organization ‘Learn our History’ but have not actually done any work for them and was surprised to find that I was listed on their website. I take my scholarship very seriously and had some concerns over responses to comments I made about things in the developmental process. While I know there are some who will take this as further ‘proof’ of the ‘illegitimate nature’ of the scholarship represented there, I cannot be responsible for those responses. The scholarship of any author or source needs to be evaluated on its own merit, not on the ideological biases of those examining it. Sloppy scholarship is sloppy scholarship regardless of whether the source is from the left or the right – or somewhere in the middle – of the political spectrum.

    That said, I was surprised by the intolerance of the statement about those working in religiously affiliated institutions. What has happened to the time honored view of a free dialogue of ideas from all perspectives and letting the strength of the arguments carry the day. Everyone views life and speaks about from the framework of their presuppositions – there is no non-perspective position of neutrality. The implication that it is the case that those working at institutions with a religious connection cannot (and do not) engage in serious research in academic disciplines is as narrow minded as a person of religious convictions asserting that a secularist could not engage in valid research.

    Like

    • Fez says:

      Alan Corlew said:

      What has happened to the time honored view of a free dialogue of ideas from all perspectives and letting the strength of the arguments carry the day.

      Then what is the problem? That is precisely what is playing out here. An affirmative claim was made (re: the Reagan quote), and someone expending the effort on fact checking discovers that the quote as presented is inaccurate.

      Bernard Baruch is credited as once saying, “Every man has a right to be wrong in his opinions. But no man has a right to be wrong in his facts,” a sentiment that well applies here. Learn Our History is entitled to their opinion of Reagan’s strength of faith, but when their clearly stated intent is, to address complex concepts in a way that kids can understand they have an obligation to meet a certain degree of historical accuracy when reporting the facts. They also have an obligation to be not just truthful but honest in their work, an obligation they betrayed when assembling a presentation out of pieces taken from wildly different contexts and presenting it with such temporal continuity.

      If you wish to take personal or professional umbrage, your ire is better directed at those who would engage in a corruption of historical scholarship to advance an agenda rather than those who take the time to, as you suggested, evaluate the merit of the scholarship and go the extra step to share their findings.

      Like

    • arensb says:

      I was surprised by the intolerance of the statement about those working in religiously affiliated institutions.

      I reread my post, as well as the comments so far, and I don’t see what you’re referring to. Could you please point out where I (or someone) have been intolerant?

      Like

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