Some Va. history texts filled with errors, review finds
Wednesday, December 29, 2010; 12:06 AM
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).
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In his recommendation to the state, Heinemann wrote, "This book should be withdrawn from the classroom immediately, or at least by the end of the year."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.
"The findings of these historians have certainly underscored and added urgency to the need to address the weaknesses in our system so we don't have glaring historical errors in our books," said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for Virginia's Department of Education.
Five Ponds Press, based in Weston, Conn., has not disputed that its books have errors, and it said in an e-mail that it plans to incorporate historians' critiques into the next editions of their books.
"Most of the items you reference have been identified, and we sent a notice a week ago to the Virginia Department of Education with our intent to make these edits in the book's next printing," Lou Scolnik, owner of Five Ponds Press, wrote in response to questions.
Five Ponds Press provides books mainly to the Virginia Department of Education. The department is required to find texts that meet the state's stringent Standards of Learning, which includes lists of themes that each textbook must cover. That disqualifies many books produced for the national textbook market.
The department approves textbooks after panels of reviewers, often elementary school teachers, verify that the books cover each of the Standards of Learning themes. Experts in particular subject matters also sometimes review books.