Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Rewriting History in Virginia

When I think of colleges and universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia my mind conjures up such institutions as Sweet Briar, University of Virginia, College of William and Mary, Washington and Lee, Virginia Military Institute, and Randolph-Macon, to name only a few. But if the state's public school students depend on their history books to pass a college entrance exam, they'll be lucky to get into Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

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.

"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.
Her list of errors spanned 10 pages.

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..


  1. It's easy to pack a school board with religious zealot wackos because the elections are usually held in off years. The wackos get out and vote.

  2. I am appalled but not surprised and predict that it will just get worse. I was appalled at how education had been "dumbed down" when my kids (now in their 30s) were in school and can only assume that it's just getting worse. (or is that worser and worser?).

  3. "Richard" Falwell's Liberty University? (His name was Jerry Falwell.) Shows how easy it is for "errors" to creep into the record. Besides, Liberty has a GREAT History Department.

  4. Truth: In this case I'm not sure all of the blame rests with the school board. It seems more like a joint effort.

    Kay: See if you can make a connection between the subject of this post and the people in this video:

    Mr. Miller: lol. You caught me. Honestly, I do know Falwell's first name. I really do. I love to quote him. hmmmm. Anyway, I have a couple of good excuses. I don't have several review boards or editors. And I'm old and senile. ; ) Thanks. I'm tempted to leave it up to see if anyone else catches it, but I won't. You don't by any chance teach history there do you? Anyway, thanks for the head's up.

  5. Falwell's name may indeed be "Jerry", but he'll forever be "Dick" (Richard) to most of us... a prick by any other name, and all that...

  6. No, I don't teach history there. I am a librarian for Liberty. Just found your comment ironic, that's all. Have a great New Year.

  7. squatlo: He never was a favorite of mine ether.

    Mr. Miller, I was one of those in my past life. An honorable profession.

  8. We are so painfully far...from being able to compete academically in the world. The money will flow to those countries with the best-educated workers. Your textbook example is Ground Zero for education reform.

  9. Nance: Your right - it's a mess. And we have the Neanderthals on the right saying we should get rid of public education!

  10. Errors like the year the US entered World War I may well be just a matter of ignorance, but the most important one on the list -- that large numbers of blacks fought for the Confederacy -- is an intentional lie, designed to legitimize the racist and treasonous behavior of the leaders of the Southern states in 1861.

    Let's not be coy about what is really happening here. Evil lies are being deliberately told to children, by evil people, in the conscious, premeditated service of evil.

  11. The Jesusistanis don't really care about history any more than they care about the truth. Things are whatever they say things are. Therefore, of COURSE all those happy, contented servants WANTED to keep their cushy lives, and fought valiantly for the FREEDOM to stay where they were!

  12. Infidel: That and ignoring the role blacks actually played in Virginia adds up to a deliberate attempt to erase their real significance - or even existence - from the history books. Lies based on the R-word. And here we are in 2011!!!

    JR: And they haven't budged from there since the end of the Great "Wah" 'tween tha States.

  13. great minds do indeed think alike, eh tnlib? Good analysis of how my home state f'ed up on this one :)

  14. I can’t add much to what has already been said, except to wonder how much of this goes on in every othr state. I remember reading articles about Dubya’s brother Neil Bush’s textbook enterprise in Texas, and how the books were full of pro-right propaganda. Of course, errors in Texas textbooks have been reported widely because what Texas chooses affects textbook sales nationwide. The “lowest bidder” approach to selecting textbooks is chilling. I’m certain the major textbook companies, while more expensive, pay more attention to accuracy. BTW, a recent email from John Podesta of the Center for American Progress said Republicans want to do away with the Dept. of Education. BJ

  15. BJ. The so-called "errors" in Texas textbooks are there by design and go beyond getting a few dates wrong. Personally, I could never remember dates or what their significance was. Still have to look up 1066!

  16. tnlib, I think that you are on target. These "errors" aren't just careless proofreading and research but an attempt to revise history to reflect not facts but a specific ideology. I find it appalling that none of the teachers who reviewed these textbooks found any of these glaring errors.

  17. Sheria: Criticizing teachers is sort of like criticizing motherhood and apple pie. But the reality is: not all teachers are really any good at their craft and far too many are not familiar with the subject they're teaching. The latter used to be blamed on the tendency of college ed departments emphasizing "method" and "theory" over "knowledge" in their course requirements. Not sure if this is still true. But I can say I've not been overly impressed with young people I've talked to in the last few years who are studying to become teachers - or many who already are teachers. I shudder to think that they're ingrained ignorance is being passed on to younger generations who will then pass it on to further generations.

    Before someone gets in a twit because I've dared criticize a sacred - and largely untouchable - cow, let me say I'm equally aware of all the knowledgeable, hard working, selfless and dedicated teachers who are also out there. Sadly I think too many of these truly dedicated souls either get beaten down by a rigid system that doesn't allow for innovation (think of the recent forced resignation of DC superintendent Rhee) or they make a career change, opting for less stress and a livable income.