True or False?
1. New Orleans began in the 1800's as a bustling U.S. harbor.
2. The Confederacy included 12 states.
3. The U.S, entered World War I in 1916.
4. African Americans fought for the South in large numbers in the Civil War.
5. Men in Colonial Virginia regularly wore full suits of armor.
6. No Americans survived the Battle of the Alamo.
If you circled "True" on even one of these, you flunked.
These are only a few of the dozens of errors historians have found since Virginia officials have ordered a review of textbooks by Five Pounds Press, publisher of "Our Virginia: Past and Present" and "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.
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, a claim rejected by most historians, but often made by Confederate heritage groups such as Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The book's author, Joy Masoff, said she found references to it during research on the Internet! Masoff is also the author of "Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty" and "Oh, Yikes! History's Grossest, Wackiest Moments." She is not a trained historian according to The Washington Post - nor a properly trained researcher apparently.
The Virginia Department of Education approves textbooks after panels of reviewers, often elementary school teachers, verify that the books cover each of the Standards of Learning themes, a list of topics that must be addressed. Sometimes experts in particular subject areas also review the books.
Charles Pyle, spokesman for the department, said "Teachers are not reading textbooks front to back, and they're not in a position to identify the kinds of errors historians could identify."
Why not? Surely teachers on the panels reviewing history textbooks aren't math instructors. Surely they know their history, if that's what they're teaching. Surely they must have stumbled across a couple of historic whoppers that must have, should have, alerted them to the possibility of said textbooks containing other errors.
But it's the economy, don't cha know?
"'They (Five Ponds Press) are willing to go to great lengths for our business. Their product is substantially less expensive than the committee's next highest-rated competitor - very appealing in these lean economic times,' said Kenneth Bassett, Prince William's social studies supervisor."
Money talks. Historical accuracy doesn't.
Four of the five experts who re-reviewed the textbooks examined only those published by Five Ponds Press. The fifth reviewer, DePaul University sociology professor Christopher Einolf, who has written a book on a Civil War general, examined Civil War content in nine other textbooks published by other companies. He noted that many of them neglect key elements, such as the role of African Americans in 19th-century Virginia.Her list of errors spanned 10 pages.
"Making a mistake is one thing. Ignoring the role that African Americans played in the state is almost as bad," Einolf said.
Historian Mary Miley Theobald, a former Virginia Commonwealth University professor, reviewed "Our America" and concluded that it was "just too shocking for words."
"Any literate person could have opened that book and immediately found a mistake," she said.
Five Ponds said in an email that they are aware of the errors and plan to incorporate historians' critiques into the next editions of their books. If it was just a matter of this publishing company, I might wonder how much money the school districts could have saved had they spent a little more up front, but apparently historical accuracy is not a top priority with most textbook publishers.
UPDATE: As if this isn't bad enough, George Will looks at the state of scientific research and innovation in his Washington Post op-ed column today - 1/2/2011..