Virginia’s History Text Disaster

No, Virginia - These guys had pretty much gone the way of the DoDo Bird by the 15th Century...

This one first surfaced in October, when a controversy erupted due to a claim in a History Text used in Virginia 5th Grade Elementary Schools contained the assertion that “thousands of black soldiers served in the confederate army”, and that black soldiers fought under Stonewall Jackson…

Neither of which is in the least bit true. Turns out the person who writes History Texts for Five Ponds Press, the company which has a lock on Virginia textbooks – isn’t a Historian. And Five Ponds Press doesn’t have their textbooks vetted by professionals prior to publication, with History Texts written by Joy Masoff.

How did Five Ponds get a lock on the Commonwealth’s textbooks? (Yes, Virginia is one of two Commonwealths in America! Extra points if you remember 10th Grade US History and the other one.)

It doesn’t appear to be anything nefarious. Virginia has a policy favoring small publishers. Second, Five Ponds reacted quickly in developing textbooks tailored to Virginia’s infamous “Standards of Learning” test…errrr… hygiene (I’m trying not to use the “s” word”!).

A combination of poor sourcing and fact checking by Five Ponds, which does $70 million a year worth of business with Virginia (who appear to be their sole, if not principal client) – and a complete breakdown by the Commonwealth in auditing the textbooks for accuracy has resulted in textbooks distributed throughout the School System with dozens, if not hundreds of errors.

In the version of history being taught in some Virginia classrooms, New Orleans began the 1800s as a bustling U.S. harbor (instead of as a Spanish colonial one). The Confederacy included 12 states (instead of 11). And the United States entered World War I in 1916 (instead of in 1917).

The text also claims that early Virginia settlers commonly wore full suits of Armor. Unfortunately for Five Ponds, Virginia was settled a few centuries after Knights in Shining Armor roamed the fields of Europe and the Middle East. By the 16th Century, muskets had pretty much rendered anything except a breastplate, and possibly a helmet obsolete.

Growing up in Virginia, I remember the pre-1970′s textbooks whose content was specified by the State Legislature. Replete with stories of “happy darkies” tending the fields as slaves in Antebellum heaven – let’s just say the Southern Myth was on full display in all it’s rancid glory. Some states, notably Texas and Arizona – apparently never left that era.

Some Va. history texts filled with errors, review finds

These are among the dozens of errors historians have found since Virginia officials ordered a review of textbooks by Five Ponds Press, the publisher responsible for a controversial claim that African American soldiers fought for the South in large numbers during the Civil War.

“Our Virginia: Past and Present,” the textbook including that claim, has many other inaccuracies, according to historians who reviewed it. Similar problems, historians said, were found in another book by Five Ponds Press, “Our America: To 1865.” A reviewer has found errors in social studies textbooks by other publishers as well, underscoring the limits of a textbook-approval process once regarded as among the nation’s most stringent.

“I absolutely could not believe the number of mistakes – wrong dates and wrong facts everywhere. How in the world did these books get approved?” said Ronald Heinemann, a former history professor at Hampden-Sydney College. He reviewed “Our Virginia: Past and Present.”

In his recommendation to the state, Heinemann wrote, “This book should be withdrawn from the classroom immediately, or at least by the end of the year.”

The review began after The Washington Post reported in October that “Our Virginia” included a sentence saying that thousands of black soldiers fought for the South. The claim is one often made by Confederate heritage groups but rejected by most mainstream historians. The book’s author, Joy Masoff, said at the time that she found references to it during research on the Internet. Five Ponds Press later apologized.

The unusual review process involved five professional scholars. The results, said three of those involved in the process, proved disturbing. Some submitted lists of errors that ran several pages long. State officials plan to meet Jan. 10 to review the historians’ concerns. (more)

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2 Responses

  1. Oooh! Oooh! I can name the other Commonwealth!! Call on me!! It’s Kentucky! I grew up there. It is one of those peculiar states(err…commonwealths) that joined the Confederacy after the Civil War. It’s amazing how many rebel flag belt buckles are worn by high school students in Kentucky. Most of these kids will swear that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War. I spent five years teaching Social Studies to ninth graders in a suburb of Louisville. Even though the kinds of inaccuracies that you mention in your post were not as blatant in the textbooks, the “Southern” pride was still learned from someplace…. But to be fair, there is also a certain pride in ignorance that I experienced there that is even more inexplicable.

    • Granola – You are correct. I made a mistake in my post. There are actually 4 states that designate themselves as Commonwealths, and Kentucky is the only state which was not in the original 13 which so designates itself as such.

      The others are Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.

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