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Mitch Daniels: Read this, not that

The latest installment of fascinating emails disclosed by the AP's Tom LoBianco reveals former Gov. Mitch Daniels' behind-the-scenes effort to push his favored view of history. He wanted Indiana schools teaching Bill Bennett's "The Last Best Hope," a popular tome for home-schoolers and Christian schools.

"This is excellent to hear … now someone make my day and tell me that his book is becoming the textbook of choice in our state and I'll buy beers for everyone," Daniels wrote in a Jan. 27, 2010, email to Tony Bennett, former Department of Education chief of staff Todd Huston, and David Shane, a Republican campaign contributor and State Board of Education member.

Tony Bennett, Huston (now a vice president with the College Board) and Shane (still a member of the State Board of Ed) had already done their best to push the book. A February 2009 "Open Letter to Indiana Educators about Textbooks, Computers and Instructional Materials" was an outright pitch for Bill Bennett's book.

"As we noted in our Statement and Action Regarding Social Studies Textbooks, taken as a group we perceive that many of the available social studies textbooks do not provide content that is interesting, engaging and supportive of effective and interested student learning," reads the letter from the state board and its chairman, Tony Bennett. "There are exceptions: we can identify, for example, an individual social studies text written to tell the story of the United States in a manner conducive to student interest rather than a lengthy amalgamation of facts for memorization."

The section of the letter is in bold type and underlined for emphasis. It also includes an odd postcript: (Confirmed by Mr. David Shane, Indiana State Board of Education member on 2/9/09, as referencing America: The Last Best Hope by Dr. William J. Bennett.)

The letter goes on to share the board's concern that the "now standardized form of social studies textbooks -- jammed full of facts without interesting prose, racing through data without telling the story (good and bad) of our country -- may jeopardize both student interest in history as a subject and the effective learning of the country's principles and values as a predicate to participating as a citizen of our nation."

The bulk of the letter is an explanation of how school districts can apply for a waiver to use computer technology in place of textbooks, making its opening pitch for Bill Bennett's book even more mystifying.

The follow-through to Daniels' email a year later, however, found Tony Bennett working to bring Bill Bennett to Indiana for a fundraiser. LoBianco's story has the details on the sketchy GOP donor Tony Bennett sought to arrange Bill Bennett's travel.

In an interview with the National Review Online on the release of his history book, Bill Bennett wasted no time in pointing to the Muslim culture as a problem. His own problem was gambling -- the high-stakes Vegas type in which he reportedly lost millions of dollars. Not exactly a virtue William J. Bennett espoused in his best-known book, "The Book of Virtues."

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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