David Barton: We Removed Mandatory Bible Readings from Our Schools… and That’s Why Our Education System is an Embarrassment

Pseudo-historian David Barton knows so little about history that his book on Thomas Jefferson was taken off the shelves for containing too many lies.

He apparently also knows so little about math that he thinks correlation must imply causation.

In a recent video, he spoke about how a “God-fearing approach to education” is what we all need, adding that the removal of mandatory Bible readings from public schools led to the education crisis we’re in now:

“When we had a God-fearing approach to education, our educational knowledge was so much higher than what it is now… Just something as simple as having prayer in schools and having a daily Bible reading. Did you know, back when we did that in schools, America was number one in the world in literacy? We had the highest literacy rate in the world. The last forty years we said ‘ah, we don’t want any religion in schools.’ We’re now 68th in the world in literacy. Our knowledge of even how to read has fallen through the floor; correlates exactly to the time that we said ‘oh, fear of the Lord can’t be part of our knowledge.”

Yeah… I’m sure that’s the reason. It has nothing to do with the increase in poverty, the flight to suburban schools by those with the means to move, the push for kids to perform well on close-to-meaningless standardized tests, or budget cuts.

To paraphrase one astute YouTube commenter, if ‘fear of the Lord’ led to literacy, then the Dark Ages would have been a golden age of innovation and progress.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • WallofSleep

    “… the Dark Ages would have been a golden age of innovation and progress.”

    That’s just it. For Barton’s ilk, it was.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    When we had a God-fearing approach to education

    It’s not that this statement is wrong. It’s that it’s gibberish.

    Did you know, back when we did that in schools, America
    was number one in the world in literacy? We had the highest literacy
    rate in the world.

    The literacy rate was much, much higher in the Soviet Union. OOPS

    We’re now 68th in the world in literacy.

    And most of those nations ahead of us are far more “godless” than the U.S. Thank you for playing, David.

  • trj

    Why stop there? To an American fundie every conceivable problem is due to removal of mandatory school prayer.

    • 3lemenope

      Leftovers spoil in the fridge because they took God out of the schools!

      • closetatheist

        Greenhouse gasses are filling up the atmosphere because they took God out of the schools!

        I lose my wifi during rainstorms because they took God out of the schools!

        • The Other Weirdo

          No, that was Thor. He didn’t like competing with another invisible power that actually worked.

          • closetatheist

            I guess I should devote myself to him and tell him how super awesome he is so he’ll feel important and then he’ll let me watch movies on demand. Is that how proper manipulation of a deity works?

            • The Other Weirdo

              That, or eat some pasta and meatballs.

  • Anat

    NAEP scores show that US education has been improving constantly:

    Despite the Massive Failure of U.S. Education, Once Again Student Performance Is Increasing

    Also, some US states ranks very high compared to other countries: Expecting the Best Yields Results in Massachusetts

    It is meaningless to treat education performance of the entire US as one entity when there is so much variability in curriculum, structure, funding, levels of poverty etc.

    Before ranting about how schools are failing, how about finding out the facts first?

  • flyb

    Blahblahblahblah…. just shut up and play that beautiful piano you got there.

    Edit: actually upon closer inspection that probably isn’t a piano, just a nice looking desk. Off to watch youtube piano clips….

  • Matthew Baker

    He forgot to stick it to evolution as well. Trigger words don’t work if you don’t use them.

  • islandbrewer

    So, when are he and the other Wallbuilders going to build a giant wall around themselves, hopefully in the Nevada desert, to keep the secular (i.e., real) world out?

  • bananafaced

    Religious zealots want only one “class book” and one “reference book”, The Bible. That keeps the population fearful, ignorant, and ultimately poor. Just look at the southeastern US as example of what unfettered Christianity can do.

  • Oranje

    It’s confounding to me how he’s okay skipping all of the steps in the middle. “We had prayer back in the days I look back on as being perfect, and we don’t now, and I don’t like today because it’s scary and weird, so therefore prayer.”

    Just no steps in between. Or questioning that maybe, just maybe, some of the funding and testing and the like is f’ing things up in some districts.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been teaching on the college level for about 14 years, and everything took a dip when I started getting NCLB students. I’m hoping to see a bounce back with Common Core’s emphasis on critical thinking and reasoning.

  • Spuddie

    David Barton is the reason our education system is an embarrassment. Now every conservative Bible-thumping moron quotes his lying shit when discussing history.

    We are not 68th in literacy but tied for 8th with 99% literacy.The people bringing down the scores are most likely to be David Barton’s followers =)

    The main reason we are no longer #1 being that many of the countries at the top of the list didn’t exist when he was in school.

    • The Other Weirdo

      We are not 68th in literacy but tied for 8th with 99% literacy. The people bringing down the scores are most likely to be David Barton’s followers =)

      Bwahahahahahaha! +10,000,000.3843

    • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

      As a graduate of the David Barton School of Everything Founding Father Jesus, I must point out that David Barton’s, PhDD, error was minor and trivial. You see the difference between 8th and 68th, is only a 6, which is well within the measure of holy error set forth by George Washington.

      • Spuddie

        PhDD sounds like a well educated stripper name.

        “And now reaching the main stage, P-H double D!”

        • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

          Well, one D wouldn’t do Barton justice.

  • Martinrc

    We added god to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 50s and poverty has been on the rise since. See I can play this game too.

    • wtbusdriver

      We actually won wars when we didn’t have “Under God” in the pledge.

      • 3lemenope


    • randomfactor

      Know what ELSE happened in the 50′s and led to a significant decline in education in the US?

      Barton’s birth…

  • Layla13

    So that’s why I failed algebra…I wasn’t afraid of God!! Silly me…

    • 3lemenope

      You need God to protect you from the demons that lurk in Diophantine equations!

      Demons armed with multiple variables cannot be defeated by science and reason.

      • The Other Weirdo

        I don’t know what “Diophantine” means, but it sounds like such a sexy word that I squeed.

        • 3lemenope

          It’s the fancy technical name for any algebraic equation or system of equations that have more than one variable and are intended to be solved for whole number solutions of each variable. The equations that describe the lines that poor Algebra Two students have to graph endlessly (or at least they did; do they still do this?) are, generally speaking, Diophantine equations.

          They are named after a fellow named Diophantus, who made several early innovations in what would later be known as algebra. I don’t know why they don’t teach a bit of the history or at least the name of the damn things when they introduce them to kids. Too intimidating? Like you, I personally think they sound *sexy*.

          • closetatheist

            That’s weird, I went through 13 years of excellent, God-fearing Christian education and never heard that word once…

            • The Other Weirdo

              You aren’t a True Christian-Educated Atheist™, then.

              • closetatheist

                C’mon, I’m trying to make up for lost time! Tell me where to start and I’ll do it! Between never seeing a picture of a human body, never learning proper natural science or biology, and only studying the nations god-fearing leaders I’ve got a lot of catching up to do….

                • The Other Weirdo

                  So, you missed out on the HomeEc classes having to do with baby-grilling with rosemary? What about school assembly for Our Lord Satan Speaks! Day? No? Now I feel really sad for you. :)

                • closetatheist

                  Rosemary?! I never even thought of that! And here I’ve been grilling my fresh Christian baby with just a little butter all these years! See? The more I hang out with the worldy kids the more practical knowledge I learn!

                • Spuddie

                  Oooh Rosemary baby!

            • 3lemenope

              To be fair, I went entirely to secular schools, and the only reason I know what they’re actually called is Wikipedia.

  • observer

    Three things:

    I like how he not only admits that he doesn’t know how fearing a supposed loving entity makes you wiser, but he has an interpretation – as opposed to actually knowing – what the sentence means.

    Ignoring the fact that it’s MANDATORY prayer that’s removed, what’s to stop you from fearing your lord in schools anyway? is there some sort of mind-ray in the schools that alters your thoughts to make it difficult to fear a supernatural entity?

    Finally, why do you care about the literacy rate? this is ‘Merica, God’s country! we’re all going to heaven as soon as he blows up the damn world! I’m rather surprised that such things on Earth concerns you.

    • pixlepix

      That mind-ray is caused by learning rational thought.

  • mikespeir

    “It has nothing to do with the increase in poverty, the flight to
    suburban schools by those with the means to move, the push for kids to
    perform well on close-to-meaningless standardized tests, or budget cuts.”

    Of course, it could just be that those “godless” other countries caught and passed us.

  • rhodent

    Wow…where to even begin? Let me see if I can find all the mistakes:

    1. “The last forty years we said, ‘ah, we don’t want any religion in schools’” — First, religion has never been banned in schools, just coerced religion. Second, Engel v. Vitale (the SCOTUS decision that banned organized prayer in public schools) happened over fifty years ago (1962), not forty.

    2. “We’re now 68th in the world in literacy.” — The only list I could find of nations ranked by literacy was on Wikipedia (not the most reliable source), but for what it’s worth that put us in a 21-way tie for 26th, not 68th.

    3. “Our knowledge of even how to read has fallen through the floor.” The CIA Factbook gives a U.S. literacy rate of 99% according to a 2003 estimate. http://nces.ed.gov/naal/lit_history.asp#illiteracy shows that our literacy rate was 97.8% in 1959 (three years before Engel), and 99.0% in 1969 (seven years after). In other words, literacy is higher today than before Engel.

    4. “Did you know, back when we [had organized prayer] in schools, America was number one in the world in literacy?” — I was unable to confirm or deny this statement, because it’s devilishly hard to find historical literacy rates for other developed nations (most historical literacy info I could find for any other country was in the context of concerted efforts to increase literacy in developing nations). However, given that this is the only claim of his I haven’t actually refuted, I consider it fair to say the onus is on him to prove his claim. That being said, it would take only one counterexample to prove him wrong, should anyone want to pick up the ball and run with it.

    • trj

      I know it’s to be expected from Barton, but I still find it ironic that while lamenting the state of education he cant even get the basic facts straight – once again.

      Isn’t Barton from the era where they still had mandatory prayer in schools? It doesn’t seem to have worked very well.

      • The Other Weirdo

        No, that’s Lying For Jebus™. That’s totally a-okay, natch.

      • rhodent

        Barton was born in 1954, so he would have been somewhere around third grade when the Engel decision came down.

  • SeekerLancer

    Because all of the countries with education statistics that are beating the pants off of the United States are full of mandatory bible reading classes, right?

  • Miss_Beara

    Whenever I hear the words “Standardized Tests” it sends shivers down my spine. What a complete waste of time

  • Taz

    If you wanted to be a good mathematician, you had to begin with a fear of the Lord.

    Bertrand Russell would beg to differ.

  • more compost

    Finland has 100% literacy. I am pretty sure they don’t have a “god-fearing approach to education.”

    • Spuddie

      or their gods are just a little funkier than the Judeo-Christian variety.



      • islandbrewer

        You’ve just reminded me that my kids know the Kalevala better than they do the bible. I’m going to have to start bringing them up to date on more popular mythologies.

        • Spuddie

          Or just rent the MST3K “The Day the Earth Froze” and just go in whole hog into the Finnish stuff. =)

  • guest

    My sciatica is flaring up because they took prayer out of schools.

  • Carpinions

    F’in post of the day to that YouTube commenter! As if anyone needed to check Barton’s vomit in the first place, that is the kind of stark, real take-down of abject lies that needs to be seen by more people more often.

    To think that this charlatan had court and sway during the GWB admin’s 8 years was frightening then, and perhaps even more so now, because everything he says can be immediately dismissed as a lie. He is perhaps America’s #1 Christian chauvinist.

  • Rain

    We had the highest literacy rate in the world. The last forty years we said ‘ah, we don’t want any religion in schools.’ We’re now 68th in the world in literacy.

    We have 99% literacy. Like about 68 or more other countries. The rest of the world caught up. He should be glad for the rest of the world instead of being all full of “literacy envy” (and baloney.).

  • Rain

    Yeah I wonder how Barton himself compares with the rest of the world in “math rate”. Not very well I’m sure, lol.

  • Cattleya1

    I couldn’t find literacy rates for 40 years ago – perhaps somebody can do a better search than I did… but, I’ll bet the literacy rates in Scandinavia and W. Germany then were better than ours were. I grew up in KY – there were still a lot of illiterate people walking around then. I knew quite a few.

  • Chris Moran

    or the fact that other countries have upped their games as we can’t just sit back and expect to be on top any longer. What a moron.

  • Anathema

    The literacy rate in Cuba skyrocketed after Fidel Castro took over. Therefore, according to David Barton’s logic, the best thing to do to increase national literacy rates isn’t to re-introduce prayer into schools, but to make students read godless Communist propaganda.

  • Ann Onymous

    Has anyone told the man that Einstein was an atheist who basically referred to a sense of wonder at the universe’s complexity as “God”? Yup, he was a terrible scientist and mathematician without that fear of God… wait…

  • Shadow

    Aside from Bartons obvious stupidity, I’d blame literacy going
    down(It has) on the age of computers, cell phones which lead to texting
    words spelled wrong. Sadder than that is that schools tend to just push
    kids through, regardless of whether they can spell or form a sentence. I
    had one of my employees(He was a good worker.), who couldn’t even spell
    a word like green. Did that stop him from having a high school
    graduation certificate? No.As for the Bible readings, Barton
    probably is refering to the improper English of the King James Bible, as
    the NIV wasn’t around back in his day. That’s right buddy, a book with old English, unused words in the current, will create literacy. LMAO