Problematic history textbooks may return to Virginia

Thumbing through two elementary history texts this summer, Zachary Schrag spotted what he described as dubious quotations, misleading images and maps depicting inaccurate borders. His list of errors - including a reference to the "United States Navel Academy" - fills nearly four pages.

The college history professor forwarded his comments to the Virginia Board of Education, which decided this morning  to place those books back on its approved textbook list. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright recommended their inclusion.

Schrag, an associate professor in George Mason University's Department of History and Art History, was among fewer than a dozen people to comment on the second editions of "Our Virginia: Past and Present" and "Our America: To 1865," published by Five Ponds Press. He acknowledged improvement in the books but said some mistakes remained.

Schrag said he was troubled by statements in the text of "Our America" that are attributed to a "Native American Elder" and "An American Indian Proverb."

"I don't expect a book to be error-free," he said. But "I am concerned by the use of quotations that don't have clear sources."

When the education department launched a review of the first editions of the Five Ponds Press books and others last year, historians discovered multiple inaccuracies. The state board revoked approval of "Our Virginia" and "Our America" in March. In South Hampton Roads, only the Chesapeake and Suffolk school divisions continue to use either book, though not as a primary resource.

The state board overhauled its textbook review process earlier this year and is considering similar guidelines for local school divisions. Under the new rules, publishers must certify that their textbooks have been checked for accuracy by subject-matter experts. They also have to agree to fix mistakes discovered in their texts.

A document provided Wednesday by the Virginia Department of Education lists changes Five Ponds Press has said it will make in response to the public comment, including some of the concerns expressed by Schrag. A call made to the Connecticut-based publisher on Wednesday was not returned.

"The superintendent feels that Five Ponds has provided adequate responses and taken adequate measures," education department spokesman Charles Pyle said.

"Our Virginia" sparked controversy last fall when Carol Sheriff, a parent and College of William and Mary history professor, disputed a sentence found in the book. It read: "Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson."

Sheriff, a teacher of the Civil War, reviewed the second edition of the "Our Virginia" chapter dealing with that subject. While pleased to see many errors had been corrected, Sheriff wrote in an email that some misleading characterizations remain.

"For example," she said, "the book might lead children to believe that slavery did not exist in the Union itself; that the North and South were entirely different from one another; or that white Northerners immediately and universally greeted the Union's black soldiers as heroes."

So how many errors are too many?

The Virginia Beach school system, for example, doesn't ask its textbook reviewers to count mistakes, said Joe Burnsworth, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. And a typo or misspelling wouldn't necessarily knock a book out of contention.

But a book with a "glaring error" - a misrepresentation of facts or an obvious bias - would likely be discounted immediately, Burnsworth said.

However, he said, "I can't tell you that every text that we adopted had no errors in it."

Hattie Brown Garrow, (757) 222-5562, hattie.brown@pilotonline.com

Posted to: Education News

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Fact checking

Should fact checking be done? Yes! With all the intellectual people teaching our kids they should be able to recognize fact vs. fiction. If not hire better teachers!

Blaming the teachers? Really?

It should not be the responsibility of teachers to search for errors in text books. The publishers should do it and the districts should be backups. Teachers have their hands full teaching. Even 'intellectual' teachers (which you seem to think is an insult) cannot do the jobs of everyone else in the food chain.

Lesson preps?

Teachers are supposed to read and know what's in the book that they are teaching. They should know the subject matter better than the publisher . The publisher prints what is given to them. Just like in computers "garbage in - garbage out"
Subject matter experts equals good teachers!

Perhaps Sandra with two last

Perhaps Sandra with two last names could be provided with copies of these books and charged with reviewing for content accuracy?

Don't like the two names?

What do you find more troubling: an uppity woman chose to use two names or some people seem to be opposed to teaching incorrect information to students? Doesn't reflect well on you in either case.

Oh get a grip...

Oh get a grip... please.
Your comment seems to indicate you think that a choice between two troubling situations must be made. The implication being because I think "Sandra" is an arrogant, self-serving politician who sees nothing wrong with essentially abandoning the position she sought, all the while hoping for a higher level office, should be of lesser concern. The relationship between the two issues is tenuous at best.
However, having said that, you are of course entitled to your opinion (as I am to mine).

I wonder if.....

"U.S, Navel Academy" was a misspelling error in the book or was it a Va Pilot error? Should have been "U.S. Naval Academy". Things that make you go,hmm. I could really care less what the books say. Kids these days need to explore and find out the facts all way around. Books aren't always correct. More than one should be used to get all of the information being taught. There is more than one side to every story.

"Kids these days need to

"Kids these days need to explore and find out the facts all way around."

In the process of exploring and finding out the facts, one might think to consult a scholastic text book provided to them by the institution of academia which they are currently mandated to attend. One might also reasonably assume the information contained in said scholastic text book to be correct.

"Books aren't always correct. More than one should be used to get all of the information being taught."

And the school systems should be accountable for picking the ones that ARE correct to use to teach children.

"There is more than one side to every story."

Yes, but there's only one side to facts.

Scholastic regulation:

"When established dogma conflicts with proven fact, the fact is obviously in error, and must be modified." (See: Rick Perry on evolution, Danae in today's "Non Sequitor" comic strip, et cet.)

New priorities

Since the advent, many years ago, of co-ed military acadamies, the study of belly-buttons has become de rigueur at Annapolis, thus the term "Navel Acadamy". I mean, you don't think our students would be deliberately supplied with incorrect study material, do you?

"U.S. Navel Academy"

It was misspelled in the textbook. That's why it's in quotes in the story.

Good for you

Good for you Professor Schrag. Thank you for taking the time to review this text book. Clearly, the publishers and administrators were not up to the task.

Comment deleted

Comment removed for rules violation. Reason: Off topic

Wonder why?

"I'm concerned whenever, with any of our schools, even one isn't fully accredited. That's of grave concern to me," Houston said.

Does anyone see any tie-in here? Could there be a cause and effect working here? Just curious.


I believe that the time for using pre-printed textbook is over.
All of this data can be consolidated on line with fact checking in use, study guides, tests, games, lab resources. If hard copies are needed for home use for students that don't have computers at home they can be printed at school and taken home.
This method is being used more and more in the upper grades and has been in use for a time for homebound students.

My last year in college we were forced to buy an expensive text that never got opened. The professor made a wonderful syllabus for the class that was all we needed.
Children are using computers now from grade 1 and are frequently more competent than their parents on the machine. There is also the cost saving...


Parental involvement needed here. This problem appears to be ongoing, so while those in charge figure out how to identify and correct mistakes found in these textbooks, parents ought to get on board and help to sift through these dubious training aids. What better an example to set for the students than having their parents to become involved? And by teaming up with their child, they can together unearth misinformation and in the process parents will have taught their children how to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Yet another horrible side effect...

of the government monopoly on the education of our children. The fact that htey can't even procure factually accurate text books is another reason why you should support school vouchers and freedom in education.

Unfortonutley we still have people who don't believe that everyone should have the freedom to choose, and have access to equal education.

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