History Textbook Draws National Attention to Local Schools
The "Our Virginia" history textbook has gained notoriety across the country for a glaring error and faulty editing process.
It's time for a pop quiz. True of False: Thousands of black slaves fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
According to most historians, the correct answer is false. But a history textbook for fifth graders in Virginia claims the opposite.
Joy Masoff authored the textbook "Our Virginia: Past and Present" to be used in elementary history classes.
Within that textbook, Masoff authored the following statement:
"Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson."
This simple sentence sparked outcry from teachers, parents and historians throughout Virginia and the nation.
The troublesome line was discovered by a parent who is also a history professor at William and Mary. Though history is a tricky subject to discuss objectively, many historians and professors agree that this claim, which Masoff found through internet research, is completely untrue.
More importantly, it has brought to light the review process for education texts in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In order to be used in schools, books must survive a Department of Education vetting process. This process entails an in-depth look of texts by a panel of content specialists and teachers.
Though indications have been given that the book was not reviewed by historians, it was reviewed and approved by several teachers. One reviewer, Beth Cooke, is currently a Rolling Valley Elementary fifth grade teacher in Springfield.
FCPS spokesperson Paul Regnier confirmed Cooke was on the panel. He also said that she was not speaking to the press, nor had she given him a statement regarding the situation.
Belle View Elementary Principal Tom Kuntz found the incident rather telling of the new information age and the review procedures.
"As writers and researchers, it's important for us to get the facts before we publish anything," Kuntz said. "Unfortunately, we live in a time where we think that just because it is in the newspaper or on the internet, it is true."
Kuntz, however, has reason to be positive about the textbook.
"This is a great learning experience for us as educators and for our students as well," he said.
The textbook has been suspended in Loudoun County, but Fairfax will continue to use it. Regnier explained that the section of the book with the line in question will not be approached in class until the spring per standard curriculum, so the school system has time to change its mind or better prepare for the subject.
The book's publisher, Five Ponds Press, has published 14 books used in Virginia's school system at this time. Masoff wrote all of the texbooks.
Five Ponds Press has begun to ship publishing stickers to cover Masoff's troublesome line, and FCPS will apply the stickers to all of the "Our Virginia" textbooks.