The Coach Teaches History

Jon Rowe has a post linking to this article by Dave Daubenmire, a guy whose sole credentials are that he once coached high school football. Now, I remember taking classes from the coaches in high school. I remember having to explain econometric formulas to the baseball coach who taught economics, one of the two required classes for seniors at my high school. I remember the basketball coach, who taught the other required class for seniors (government), telling me to go find the latest Time magazine and write about whatever was on the cover after I turned in a paper about the voting patterns of various religious groups in America. Let's just say their efforts at teaching - which involved a lot of filmstrips and videos - weren't exactly rigorous (and before someone tells me that their dad was a teacher and a coach and was a very good teacher, I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule; that does not, however, invalidate the rule).

Anyway, Coach Daubenmire's amusing attempts at American history fall flat on their face right from the start when he says:

Did you know that 52 of the 55 signers of "The Declaration of Independence" were orthodox, deeply committed, Christians? The other three all believed in the Bible as the divine truth, the God of scripture, and His personal intervention.

The funny thing here is that he begins his essay by discussing the telephone game, where something gets repeated over and over and changed a little with each telling so that by the end it's unrecognizable. And then he engages in the exact same thing here. This claim has been repeated and distorted so many times that the religious right rank and file don't even know which document it refers to. Many religious right webpages record the claim as being about the signers of the Constitution, not the Declaration. Indeed, the claim is taken from David Barton, who took it from ME Bradford, and Bradford was talking about the Constitution.

This page says it's the 55 signers of the Constitution. So does this one. This one says it's the signers of the Declaration. This one too. And this one. Which one is correct? Neither, actually.

There's just a couple problems with this: there were only 40 signers of the Constitution (there were 53 delegates to the convention, but only 40 signed it; some, like George Mason, helped frame it and then refused to sign it). And there were 56, not 55, signers of the Declaration. Furthermore, Bradford's claim about 52 of them only measured which ones belonged to churches, which is hardly a measure of piety or even belief. These men were politicians, and church attendance was a perfunctory necessity then as it is now (in the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson was savaged as an infidel because he didn't attend church on Sundays but instead spent the day at home; this was a lesson not lost on him, and even Jefferson often attended church while in office to avoid the appearance of being irreligious).

Barton has taken Bradford's claim and exaggerated to indicate that 52 of them were "orthodox" Christians, with many of them being "evangelical" Christians. Now, it's certainly true that most of the framers were Christian, some quite devout and some nominal at best. But it's also true that many of them were theistic rationalists who rejected orthodox Christianity. The founding of this nation was, in large part, the result of compromise between the two groups.

See, Thomas Jefferson told the Danbury Baptists that the First Amendment erected a wall of "separation between the church and the state". Like the guys in the circle playing telephone, much of the message has been twisted. We only get a part of what Jefferson really said. The guy who started the conversation, Thomas Jefferson, was passing on a half-truth. Jefferson had no part in the writing of the Constitution. During the time when Madison, the Father of the Constitution, was putting together this remarkable document, Jefferson was in Europe. Although I am sure that Madison had some idea of Jefferson's beliefs, the fact is, Jefferson had zero influence on what appeared in the Bill of Rights, and certainly no first-hand knowledge of the discussions.

Almost entirely false. Yes, Jefferson was in France while the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written. Does that mean he had "zero influence" on what appeared there? The coach couldn't be more wrong. In fact, Jefferson was the one who talked Madison into the need for a Bill of Rights (Madison initially opposed the idea) and he and Madison exchanged many letters on the subject of what they should contain. The religion clauses of the first amendment, proposed by Madison, were based upon Jefferson's Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, which he wrote for the state of Virginia and which Madison later pushed through the legislature there in 1786. This not formed the basis of the first amendment, it also influenced other states to do away with the last vestiges of their religious establishments as well.

And of course, Jefferson was not the only one to use the phrase "separation of church and state"; Madison used it too, along with many variants of it. In fact, Madison was a more staunch separationist than Jefferson was. He even argued that congressional and military chaplains were a violation of the establishment clause. So an accomodationist has a bigger problem dealing with Madison than with Jefferson.

But that didn't bother Hugo Black. When putting together the Everson decision, why did Hugo Black pick Jefferson as a source? Why did he choose as evidence a private letter from a man who wasn't even present when the document was created? Why didn't Justice Black go to the man who had written it and see what he had to say?

Okay, let's go back to Madison, the man who had written it, and see what he had to say:

The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State (Letter to Robert Walsh, Mar. 2, 1819).

Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and & Gov't in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history (Detached Memoranda, circa 1820).

Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822).

I must admit moreover that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the other or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them will be best guarded against by entire abstinence of the government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others. (Letter Rev. Jasper Adams, Spring 1832).

There you have it, straight from the man that the Coach admits is the one we should turn to for authoritative advice on the proper interpretation of the first amendment religion clauses. But rather than consulting the real thoughts of the founders on these matters, the coach goes on to pass along some fake quotes from them. All the usual suspects are here. Patrick Henry:

"It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Fake quote. Even David Barton has admitted it has never been found anywhere in Henry's writings or speeches. Madison is here too:

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We've staked the future of all our political institutions upon our sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."

Another fake quote. Not only has it never been found anywhere in Madison's writings, it is completely contrary to Madison's position. And again, even Barton has admitted this. George Washington too:

It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and Bible.

Yep, you guessed it. This one is fake as well. Washington never said any such thing.

I think it's best you stick to football, Coach. As a history teacher, you're a miserable failure.


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Ha, I had two football coaches for teachers. One for health class. He thought a good learning method was watching The Wonder Years. The other was my chemistry class. We used the class as study hall. He'd sit there and read his newspaper while we did homework for other classes. We did work, but he'd try to cram it all into one day.

The phoney Patrick Henry quote seems not to have made it into your post. Add it via comment?

By flatlander100 (not verified) on 11 Apr 2006 #permalink

There was a type in the html (misplaced closing > in the blockquote tag) -- here is the Henry fakequote:

It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I get the creepy feeling these people are simply making things up to support their prejudices. Not merely mis-remembering -- making it up. Just like history classes in Soviet schools.

Sorry guys, ScienceBlogs is experiencing some mysql problems at the moment, so I'm having trouble fixing it. Crain got the quote right.

In addition to Crain, Craig also got it right. I wonder if they know each other?

The so called comments by our founding fathers seem obviously made up. I'm actually surprised that we haven't seen one that says something like:

Our nation was founded with the glory of God, and our savior Jesus Christ. And so we must honor our lord who has guided us to this divine democracy. Those who wish to remove the Ten Commandments from our houses of law only wish to supress the will of the people. Those same people who would like us to believe that we were descended from Monkeys, the ACLU.
-Thomas Jefferson

I just feel compelled to give a shout out to my high school Physics and Chem teacher, Mr. Paul of Dayton, NV. He was on track to the NFL and blew out his knee, going to his "fall-back" degree in education and coaching our backwater football team.

I have to say, this guy could answer physics and chem questions the other teachers couldn't understand. He was(is) an excellent teacher and I won't regale you with the many examples of how he brought physics and chemistry to life. His class is where many concepts "clicked" for me.

I know he is an exception to the rule, but consider this post a plug as well as an offering of hope for our education system.

I'm always particularly amused by the quote from Patrick Henry, which is usually attributed to him as having been said in 1775 in response to the Stamp Act - before there was a nation to have said anything about. At that point, the 13 colonies were still colonies under British rule, there was no nation. Beyond that, Henry would certainly not have said that the nation was founded on Christianity because one of his primary arguments against the Constitution (he opposed its passage) was that it was a godless document.


Is Patrick Henry's quote missing?

Ed -

The Stamp Act was in 1765.

Which of course makes the claim no less ludicrous.

Gah, two seconds ago, nobody had commented! Sorry for redundancy, repetion and replication... teehee.

and REPETITION as well...

When I was a gradute student in Texas, mid-80s, the common thing was "coach biology". The entire biology class would consist in learning every single muscle and bone, and how you can break it, tore it, dislocate it, etc.

By TrekJunkie (not verified) on 11 Apr 2006 #permalink


Thanks. I knew that, but my fingers don't seem to be cooperating with me today. Just ask Crain.

I've been reading this blog for a couple of months, first time I've posted (I guess this one hit a bit close to home).

First, let me state for the record that I happen to be a teacher and a coach. No, I'm not being defensive at all, because I am a great teacher, but a very average coach. One of the reasons I became a teacher was because my history teacher in high school was SO bad that I was challenged to learn the actual history of our country while in college. Not only was he flat out wrong when "teaching" history, the guy was our 350 lb health teacher (had to buy a new irony-o-meter).

Second, I am a rather controversial teacher. I actually teach my kids, in addition to history and government, to use critical thinking skills. I've had a handful of them complain to other teachers and admin that I am "too liberal." Interestingly enough liberal students have come directly to me to comment (rather than complain) that I was being too conservative. Interesting that while both groups of kids didn't quite get the concept of Devil's advocate, the one group came to talk to me about it while the other group "reported" me to other conservatives.

The point is, I had a student try to "set me straight," with an email full of the "religious history" of our founding fathers. Page upon page of pseudo history put together by Barton, Bradford, and others of their ilk. I went through and responded to each and every claim, proving that they were either patently false, truly misleading partial quotes, or were taken out of context. Later I asked this student if they had read my reply. They told me "no, as soon as I saw that you disagreed with me, I decided not to read it." I asked them if they realized that their position wasn't supported by the facts, that it was completely false, they replied that they liked it better that way, so they were "fine with it."

Gives you an interesting view of the mindset of some of those folks on the right. Also explains how creationism, ID, and their efforts to create a theocracy continue despite the constant beatings they take. "The truth? Facts? They need not apply, I like it better "knowing" I'm right."

By dogmeatIB (not verified) on 11 Apr 2006 #permalink

Good job, Dogmeat, keep up the great work. I always say getting kids to really think is the greatest goal and toughest challenge of any teacher.

I generally had poor coaches-as-teachers in school, but I have to say one coach teaching Civics gave me the essay question that prompted more thought than any other I've ever had:

Was Jesus a Communist or a Capitalist?

This was back in the late 80's, when Communists were still pert-damn-near close to Satanists, so it was a very provacative question. It really got me thinking.

And I don't mean this as a "Come on Ed, some coaches are great teachers!", it's just a personal anecdote spurred by Dogmeat's comment.


Well I'm glad you finally commented, and let me reiterate that I don't mean to imply that everyone who is a coach is a bad teacher. I'm sure there are many, many exceptions to it and I wish there were more. There's no intrinsic reason why a coach can't be a good teacher, it's just a function of the fact that in so many schools the sports program is viewed as more important than academics so they bring in coaches with lots of experience at their sport and little or no actual teaching. They have to do something with them other than have them coach, and they can't all teach gym class, so they throw them into other classes. And at my high school, which was allegedly one of the best in the state, they actually threw them into the only two classes that were required for seniors to take and it happened to be two classes I was really interested in and knew a lot about so it was doubly frustrating for me. If a student knows more than the teacher about a subject, the teacher has no business being a teacher.

I've had the same experience you've had, particularly when dealing with religious people (though I've seen the same behavior from time to time among the non-religious as well, and it's certainly not true of all religious people either). There is a certain mindset out there that acts as a force field to keep reality out. I've been sent emails full of "Christian nation" pseudohistory and taken the time to debunk them completely and then had the response be, "You'll just say anything to avoid God" or something equally stupid. It's quite annoying.

C'mon, listen to guys like Rush Limbaugh, according to them "anyone can teach." ;o)

Successful athletics can help schools a great deal. If your school is winning, people will donate things that the programs need that you otherwise would go without, or that the school would have to pay for. In some cases that means more money can be devoted to music and arts programs, etc. Unfortunately sometimes schools are so desperate to do well that they do hire coaches who don't fit into the faculty and then try to jam them into the classroom.

Many states now require that you be certified in the area in order to teach that subject (amazing concept ... eh?). In some states you can't even teach other areas of social studies (say government if your cert. is history). So personally I think the effort has been made to eliminate the old coach who does the crossword while you're supposed to be learning physics, but, as is the case with many of the problems within education, we aren't done yet.

And again, no I didn't take it as a personal or professional slight. I think every field has that bonehead that everyone else is trying to figure out ... how did you get through college? How did you get this job? How the heck can we get you transferred?

By dogmeatIB (not verified) on 11 Apr 2006 #permalink

Great post except... How do I know anything you said is true? Assertion without attribution is worthless.

"Great post except... How do I know anything you said is true? Assertion without attribution is worthless."

Ummm Tom, to which post are you referring? One of mine, Ed's, someone elses? There are a number of posts on this thread without sources, supporting data, etc. Without some reference to the specific post you are critiquing, how are we to know who failed your assessment? ;o)

By dogmeatIB (not verified) on 11 Apr 2006 #permalink

Tom wrote:

Great post except... How do I know anything you said is true? Assertion without attribution is worthless.

If you have any specific arguments against anything I said, I'll be happy to document it for you. This is a blog posting, not a scholarly paper with footnotes.


Sorry, I was refering to "The Coach Teaches History." I don't expect a blog to have detailed footnotes, but I am constantly telling people not to believe anyting they read on the internet unless there is a link our other source attribution.

Tom wrote:

Great post except... How do I know anything you said is true? Assertion without attribution is worthless.
If you have any specific arguments against anything I said, I'll be happy to document it for you. This is a blog posting, not a scholarly paper with footnotes.

C'mon, listen to guys like Rush Limbaugh, according to them "anyone can teach." ;o)

He actually said that? Hoo boy, I'd like to see him say that in a room full of public school teachers. Better yet, make them inner city school teachers.

Limbaugh is an ignorant bag of hot air. Plain and simple.

By FishyFred (not verified) on 11 Apr 2006 #permalink

If you think the Christians' history sources are skewed, you should try reading their schools' history textbooks. I've seen some. They repeat the same ahistorical propaganda Ed debunks here. So it's no wonder the same misinformation gets repeated and garbled.

I lucked out in junior high and high school. I had both the JV and varsity football coaches as teachers. The JV guy was a short, stocky fellow with an Army crewcut. He might've been a sergeant at one time. But he knew American history and could teach it pretty well. He recognized that the text we were using was inaccurate, and would fill in the blanks. The varsity coach was my honors physics teacher, and loved programming. No one wanted to get him angry, since he was built like a linebacker. Great teacher, but unfortunately he would get a little too friendly with the girls. Eventually he lost his job when his friendliness got too, um, physical.

He and I were neighbors, too, and both fond of driving maybe too quickly on our rural two-lane roads on our way to school.

FishyFred said:

Limbaugh is an ignorant bag of hot air. Plain and simple.

I completely disagree -- I'd like to see a bag of hot air pop Oxycotin like Rush does!

I would like the religious right to explain Article 11 of the US Treaty with Tripoli, negotiated by George Washington, signed by John Adams.

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Mussulmen is an old variant of the word "Muslim". It makes for quaint reading in light of the current US administration's attitude towards Islam, no?

Hitchhiking on Shargash's note: There are no fewer than seven treaties with Barbary and other Moslem nations, between 1786 and 1816, which contain language similar to the first Treaty with Tripoli. Some nut will pop up with a 1930s-ish criticism of the treaty that says that clause was translated incorrectly. However, the "not . . . founded on the Christian religion" language is what the U.S. Senate approved -- unanimously, as I recall -- and it is the law of the land in the U.S.

And as to the bizarre claim that Jefferson's letter in 1802 shouldn't be heeded: The Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut, wrote Jefferson because they feared the State of Connecticut would establish a church and outlaw some of the Baptists' practices. Jefferson was concerned, and wanted to make a statement of what the policy is in the U.S. Jefferson consulted with his attorney general, Levi Lincoln, and they struck on the tactic of writing a letter to the group as an official proclamation of the President of the United States. Together they crafted the letter as a representation of what the law is in the U.S. The Supreme Court accurately and well relied on Jefferson's letter as the statement of official policy it was intended to be, and which has been uncontradicted for 204 years.

I had coaches, too -- in Pleasant Grove, Utah, we had a lot of coaches and former coaches. Without exception they were all at least adequate, and a couple were outstanding. Max Schifrer had coached the football team to two state championships, but by the time I got there he masterfully headed the math department, and taught most of the upper level math courses quite ably. His trigonometry course nearly got me through undergraduate biology, and saved my tail in graduate school in humanities. I'd also like to plug Earl "ye gods and little fishes" Giles who taught world history well, though he had little use for odd foreign words (he called them "burGOsee," instead of bourgeoisie, for example, something that still makes me smile), and Coach Hill, who encouraged me to read for and take the AP U.S. history exam, the first at my school to do so.

The good ones demonstrate that it is possible to step out of one's area of expertise and not be a blathering idiot, and they set a high standard for all of us. Since those years I've come to appreciate coaching for what it sometimes is, the coaxing of highest achievement out of people, and I wonder why we don't follow the athletic model more in other areas (I mean, by selecting the best math students in 6th grade and nurturing them, and the best writers, best artists, best historians, etc., etc.). We could learn a lot from athletic coaches that would apply to other areas of learning, and we should.

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 11 Apr 2006 #permalink


Some responses to the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli:

1. There is no Arabic passage corresponding to Article 11. Some have argued or speculated that the English was inserted by Joel Barlow (a friend of Thomas Paine) without there being corresponding Arabic. The extant Arabic text includes the text of a letter in the place of Article 11. (Even if the speculation is true, this is irrelevant to the point, since it is the English language, containing Article 11, that was ratified by the Senate and signed by President John Adams.)

2. The Treaty was only in effect for a few years, being supplanted by the 1806 Treaty which didn't contain such language (and a declaration of war against the U.S. by Tripoli in 1801). (This still is irrelevant to the fact that the Senate and President had no problem with the 1797 wording.)

David Barton's response to the treaty is to distinguish being "founded upon the Christian religion" from being a "Christian nation," and to hold that the official establishment of religion is only permissible at the state level.

Jim Lippard said:

... and to hold that the official establishment of religion is only permissible at the state level.


I've heard this same argument, but regarding the entire Constitution and Bill of Rights, not just the Establishment Clause. Basically they feel the entire set of documents applies only to federal governments and that States are essentially unfettered. Can you point to some good resources dealing with it?

I've had people go so far as to say that a State could (and should) have an official State religion if they wanted and in essence create a total dictatorship in every other way. When I asked what remedy the citizens of such a state would have, the answer was "only armed rebellion". I can't imagine how such a confederation of States could in any way be considered a Nation.

Jeff Hebert wrote:

've heard this same argument, but regarding the entire Constitution and Bill of Rights, not just the Establishment Clause. Basically they feel the entire set of documents applies only to federal governments and that States are essentially unfettered. Can you point to some good resources dealing with it?

This is mostly true. The Bill of Rights did not apply to state action until the passage of the 14th amendment. There were provisions of the Constitution that did apply to them and prevent them from doing certain things, like printing their own money or signing treaties with foreign powers. But the bill of rights applied only to Federal action initially. Madison wanted the first amendment applied to the states, but he was voted down. The 14th amendment changed that, though the application of the bill of rights has been piecemeal and inconsistent by the courts.

I wrote a profile of Daubenmire a few months ago - noting particularly his bogus boasts about having "defeated" the ACLU and his attempt to sue critical parents for libel. It's here.


I'm confused about the reference to 53 delegates. Every source I looked at says 55. I found sources that said Jefferson and Adams did not attend [being in Europe]. Are you subtracting them, and the other sources don't?



I got 53 by counting up the number in William Pierce's description of each of the delegates. I had seen conflicting numbers, but Pierce (who was a delegate himself) had written a brief description of all of the delegates and I counted them up. However, now I just went back and did the same thing with the demographic data on each of the framers listed at and there are indeed 55, so Pierce left a couple off of his list and I was wrong to use that as a measure. It is indeed 55 framers, but only 40 signers of the Constitution.

Excellent post, excellent comments too (esp. bourgeois_rage - good one!). Everyone read Bartholomew's blog, which rocks.

Dogmeat, your story is so disheartening I can't stand it. I can't imagine what I would have done if a student had said that to me - probably just gaped at him in disbelief.

Let me join Dave in recommending Bartholomew's blog. He's not a 5 times a day writer like I am, he's more of a 5 times a week writer. But every post is thorough and well thought out and very, very informative.