Third-grade students at a school in New York were using a workbook created by an international publishing company when they noticed that it had incorrect information about Christopher Columbus.
The Math in Focus workbook said in a math problem that Columbus landed in America in 1492. The students at Valleyview Elementary School in Oneonta knew that wasn’t true — and they wanted the publisher to fix the error.
It took months — and an online petition, in which the students wrote, “We think they are ignoring us because we are kids” — but the students won.
Historians say that Columbus never set foot on the North American continent, although he did explore the coasts of South and North America. He also landed on several Caribbean islands now called the Bahamas, as well as on an island now known as Hispaniola. Historians also think the Norse explorer Leif Erickson reached Canada as many as 500 years before Columbus was even born.
Math in Focus is a math curriculum from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Marshall Cavendish Education. A spokesman for the company said in a statement, "Although it took longer than we would have liked for the students to receive a response, we are pleased with the outcome and happy to see the class so engaged in the curriculum.”
The students, along with their teacher, Ken Sider, said in the petition that they sent a letter to the publisher asking for a correction, but received only a form letter. Another letter sent to the publisher was answered with another form letter, they said, and a third missive from the students went unanswered.
After five months of waiting, the students and Sider wrote a petition and published it on Change.org. In little time, more than 1,000 people signed it. Here it is:
We are third graders from Valleyview Elementary School in Oneonta, New York. We have a problem that we want to tell you about.
When we were using our Math in Focus workbook, we noticed page 52 had incorrect information. There was a math problem that said Columbus was in America in 1492. (We have proof.) We know that is not true. Columbus was never in America. The Marshall Cavendish Education company is teaching thousands of kids the wrong information. We want them to fix it, but they are ignoring us. We sent them a letter on October 10, 2018, and they sent us a form letter back that said: “Our representative will be reviewing your request and sending you a response within 2 working days.” When we didn’t hear from them, we wrote again on November 6, 2018, to remind them. They sent another form letter that said: “We have since forwarded your class’s letter to the relevant team. We will urge the relevant team to respond to you and your class.” We wrote again on November 28, and told them they are putting false information in their book and that we want to hear from them. We offered to fix the page for them and asked them to please answer us. They still have not answered us. We have been waiting for five months. We think they are ignoring us because we are kids.
Kids deserve to know the truth about history and Columbus. Adults who make books for kids should know the facts and get them right. On the cover of the Math in Focus workbook, it says Marshall Cavendish Education is a “world class program” and a “consistent top performer in international studies.” We can’t believe this is right because of the mistake on page 52. Don’t they know Columbus never landed in America?
We want Marshall Cavendish Education to fix the mistake! We hope you will help us get this mistake fixed. Please sign our petition if you agree with us. Thank you.
The Valleyview Third Graders
They added the names of scholars and professors to the end of the petition to show support from historians.
On April 2, Sider published a note on the petition saying that the publisher had agreed to make the change. He wrote:
Apr 2, 2019 — On April 2, we received a letter from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Marshall Cavendish Education. They saw our petition at change.org and wrote to us. Their letter said that people can use the words " the Americas" and “America” in different ways, but since Columbus never landed in the United States of America they agreed to change the textbook. The letter says they will “adjust the language for clarity” and the new page will say: “Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean in the year 1492.” We are surprised that they are changing it, but we are very happy. Now other kids will know the true facts of history. Thank you for helping and supporting us. We hope you are happy, too.
The Daily Star quoted third-grader Ian MacLeod saying he was surprised that the students won.
“I always knew that kids could do big things, but now I know that it’s officially true because we exceeded our goal to change the math book,” he said.
(Update: Adding quote from publisher)