Loudoun schools remove textbook over claim about black Confederate soldiers

By Kevin Sieff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 12:05 AM

Loudoun County school officials have decided to pull "Our Virginia" from its fourth-grade classrooms because of its dubious claim about thousands of black soldiers fighting for the South during the Civil War.

Schools spokesman Wayde Byard said "Our Virginia" was removed from classrooms Wednesday. "The book will remain suspended until the state reviews the entire text and issues supplemental material or corrections," he said Friday.

Northern Virginia school officials are divided in their reaction to news that the textbook contains a passage that most historians regard as inaccurate. Although Loudoun is withdrawing the book, officials in Fairfax and Arlington counties say they will continue to use it in their classrooms. Alexandria does not use "Our Virginia."

Prince William County is in the process of adopting textbooks, and "Our Virginia" is among the books being considered by the school system. The textbook will remain in consideration, along with six other titles from its publisher, Five Ponds Press. The books were automatically put up for review in the school system after being approved by the state.

A state official said the book was approved by the Department of Education without the input of a single historian or content specialist. "We really need to do everything we can to make sure this never happens again," said the department's spokesman, Charles Pyle. "We're going to emphasize to our textbook review committee members to look very carefully for bias and misinformation . . . and to pay particular attention to sensitive periods in American history."

The publisher has said it will provide a sticker to cover the disputed sentence in "Our Virginia." The state Board of Education, which approved the book, said this week that the claim about African Americans fighting for the Confederacy falls outside "mainstream Civil War scholarship."

The textbook's author, Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian, told The Washington Post this week that she substantiated her assertion about black Confederate soldiers primarily by doing an Internet search, which led her to the work of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and some other sources. The heritage group disputes the widely accepted conclusion that the struggle over slavery was the main cause of the Civil War.

After historians discovered the controversial claim about black soldiers, readers identified another problematic passage, which states that "Brown bears stuff themselves on Fall berries" in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A photo of a bear is included below the passage.

In fact, only black bears live in that part of the state, not brown bears. Five Ponds Press issued a statement to school superintendents declaring that the controversial paragraph about black soldiers will be removed in the book's second edition and that "a questionable bear shown on the Blue Ridge Mountain page will be changed."

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