It’s welcome news but still troubling on two counts. One is why it took the state so long. The other is that the improvements approved by the state Board of Education rely on publishing firms to do the vetting, instead of having teachers or independent experts expand their reviews of them.
The problems arose last fall when a William & Mary history professor read the history book used by her fourth-grade daughter. The book, titled “Our Virginia: Past and Present” and published by Connecticut-based Five Ponds Press, had glaring inaccuracies, notably that African Americans had fought for the South in battalion-strength numbers during the Civil War.
That hit the professor hard, especially since she is heavily involved with the sesquicentennial remembrances of the Civil War. The book was also riddled with grammatical errors and punctuation problems, setting a bad example of writing to youngsters.
The irony is that Virginia’s education bureaucrats take special pride in their ability to present history, given that the Old Dominion has an unusually rich one.
Up until now, books have been informally reviewed by teachers who would read some of the proposed books and come to Richmond to discuss them. They are paid about $200 for the service.
The pin-money approach is still in evidence because the Board of Education, facing large budget cuts for public education, is now putting the onus onto the publishers. Publishers will have to certify that their facts are right and that the publishers, not the state, have had three qualified experts on the subject matter review the books. The teachers will then review the books to see if they are suitable for their classes without the burden of fact-checking. “Their comfort level will be higher since the responsibility for identifying misinformation will be with the publisher,” Charles Pyle, director of communication for the Virginia Department of Education, told me.
In others words, we’re sticking with to the el-cheapo way of doing things that is as deeply-rooted in the Virginia psyche as glorifying the deeds of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.