17 January 2011

School Textbook Is A Travesty

The state of Virginia has been an important part of American history since before the United States was even conceived of as a country, and it has been the home of some of our biggest American heroes -- like Founding Fathers George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. With this kind of rich historical heritage, one would think the state's school system would take teaching history very seriously. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case.

Ted McLaughlin @ jobsanger posted back in October about a grievous error in the state's new history book. Here is his follow up. The book said, "Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson." The book's inference was that the Civil War couldn't have been fought over slavery since thousands of blacks fought for the South. The problem with the claim (and the inference) is that it simply is not true.

After receiving a firestorm of criticism about the fraudulent claim in the school history book, the state had a panel of historians examine the book for accuracy. What they found is troubling. The historians said they found an "appalling" number of factual mistakes in the book (not to mention a large number of grammar, punctuation and spelling errors). They said over 140 errors needed to be corrected in the book. Here are a few of the worst errors:

• The War of Independence began in 1775, not 1776.
• George Washington did not preside over a Continental Congress in 1785, he presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
• Eleven states joined the Confederacy, not 12.
• There wasn't a Battle of Richmond in the Civil War.
• The number of casualties in the two battles at Bull Run was more like 30,000 - not 6,000.
• America joined World War I in 1917, not 1916.

Many of the state's school districts have already spent millions of dollars to buy the book and are now trying to figure out what to do. Some districts are saying they may use the textbook and depend on teachers to correct the errors for students (with a supplemental guide pointing out the mistakes).

I know we are in the middle of a recession and school money is precious, but how can they condone using such a book? Perhaps they should go back to the old books they were using before purchasing these ridiculous textbooks -- at least until they can afford a copy without so many mistakes (and the publisher claims they have no obligation to replace the books without further pay).

I have to wonder how this book slipped through the review process. Surely they have someone checking the books they buy. Obviously the process of reviewing textbooks needs to be fixed. And maybe the publisher should be sued for producing such a shoddy product.

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