A textbook case of historical inaccuracies

A TEXTBOOK CASE OF HISTORICAL INACCURACIES…. A few months ago, the Washington Post reported that public school textbooks in use in Virginia told students that thousands of black soldiers fought for the South during the Civil War. That’s plainly false. But it led to some interesting questions, such as, what else is wrong in these textbooks?

As it turns out, quite a bit.

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.

Five professional scholars oversaw the review process. One, historian Mary Miley Theobald, a former Virginia Commonwealth University professor, reviewed a currently-used history textbook and concluded that it was “just too shocking for words.” She prepared a list of errors for state officials — and the list is 10 pages long.

“Any literate person could have opened that book and immediately found a mistake,” she said.

The publisher, which hired an amateur who relied on web searches, is clearly responsible for these errors, but it’s also worth noting that Virginia officials aren’t helping.

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…. The creation of Standards of Learning requirements helped create niche markets for smaller publishers, including Five Ponds Press.

Among the restrictions: Virginia requires state textbooks to tell students the Civil War was primarily a matter of states’ rights, not a conflict over slavery.