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Posted at 10:10 AM ET, 10/20/2010

The rich irony in Virginia’s history textbook error

By Valerie Strauss

There is rich historic irony in the news that a textbook given to Virginia’s fourth-graders wrongly claims that thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the Civil War: The process by which textbooks are adopted by some states was initiated after Southern states decided they did not want children reading the North’s version of the conflict.

As reported in today's Washington Post by my colleague Kevin Sieff, the book “Our Virginia: Past and Present,” used by Virginia students for the first time last month, was written by an author who is not a trained historian and who said she found the information about black Confederate solders on the Internet.

The author, Joy Masoff, has penned other works including "Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty" and "Oh Yikes! History’s Grossest Moments."

(You can’t make up this stuff.)

She also is the author of 13 other books published by Five Ponds Press and approved for use in the Virginia public school system.

According to Sieff’s article, Masoff said she relied primarily on the Internet for research about black Confederate soldiers. What she found was the work of members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. That’s a group of male descendants of Confederate soldiers, based in Tennessee, that has long claimed that big numbers of black soldiers fought for the South. Professional historians of the era say this is nonsense.

That a textbook with such a profound mistake about the most profound conflict in U.S. history could survive the most recent Virginia adoption process tells you that something is wrong with the way textbooks are selected. Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle told Sieff that approved books don’t have to be fully endorsed by the department. Still, you’d think the question of accuracy would matter.

Some 20 states undergo textbook adoption processes, and this takes time. Committees are formed to review the proposals, and publishing company lobbyists woo. States check to see if their long list of content standards are addressed in the books and then base decisions, not on book quality but on adherence to standards and, often, to political sensitivities. That's why Chester E. Finn Jr. once wrote about textbooks: "Many of them are mediocre and some are dreadful."

Historically the big adoption states -- Texas, California and Florida -- have had outsized influence in the books that smaller states eventually use because publishers are trying to please the big-buck purchasers. That’s why there was hullabaloo this year when the conservative majority on the Texas Board of Education made changes to the state’s social studies standards; there was fear that textbooks would be affected outside Texas.

The Masoff textbook was ruled "accurate and unbiased" by a Virginia committee of content specialists and teachers, leaving one to wonder how carefully the committee members looked at the book. Any “content specialist” paying attention to this material should have picked up the error.

Somehow, though, in the most recent book adoption by Virginia that concluded this year, questions were raised about a prize-winning 10-volume series on U.S. history by Joy Hakim, called a History of US.

The series is not written like conventionally dry textbooks but rather with rich stories and colorful language that have proved successful in elementary, middle school, high school and even college classes. It has won many awards, including the 1997 James A. Michener Award for Writing, and it formed the basis of a Public Broadcasting Service miniseries. Historians, including Civil War expert James McPherson, have praised the series over the years.

But getting the books into classrooms hasn’t been easy. When looking for a publisher, Hakim was asked repeatedly to change material; for example, using “enslaved person” instead of slave. She refused -- though other authors haven’t -- and finally found Oxford University Press to agree to take on the books. But Oxford is a small shop and doesn’t have the money to hire lobbyists and salespeople to hawk the product like the big publishers for the state textbook adoptions.

According to Hakim, the history series was questioned in the latest Virginia adoption because it did not cover required material in two instances: There is no mention of the Canadian shield in the series (it’s a geological formation under North America in the books), and it does not mention a recently discovered archaeological site in Virginia.

Yup, those were caught, but not the black Confederate soldier myth.

Hakim’s book series was finally put on the list of books that Virginia schools are allowed to purchase (), as were the Masoff books and others.

A 2004 primer on textbook adoption called “The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption,” written by David Whitman and available on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute Web site, reveals the roots of today’s textbook problems:

The textbook adoption process was, in effect, born to twist American history and frustrate the development of a common civic purpose. Its origins trace to the aftermath of the Civil War, when most publishers had their headquarters in the North. Embittered ex-Confederates distrusted Yankee publishers and wanted Dixie schoolchildren to have their own textbooks—so southern states established textbook adoption processes to make sure anti-Confederate books stayed out of their schools. Northern publishers obligingly complied, publishing separate textbooks for schools in the South and North. For decades, Southern textbooks referred to the Civil War as “the War for Southern Independence” or “the War between the States.” Today, nearly 150 years later, most adoption states are still located in the South and West.
The early development of the textbook adoption process also set two other precedents that figure importantly in today’s system. The first trend emerged after World War I, when immigrants and interest groups attacked that era’s schoolbooks for failing to include their stories in the American odyssey. German Americans and Irish Americans complained, as did Jewish Americans. The American Federation of Labor fought to have organized labor portrayed more favorably. The American Legion contended that textbooks lacked patriotic fervor. In the 1950s, during the height of the Cold War, the Daughters of the American Revolution put out a list of 170 “subversive” textbooks.
These were the first stirrings of “identity politics” in textbook adoption—which have now reached full fruition with bias guidelines in California that require precise proportionality in the portrayal of ethnic groups, genders, different types of families, the elderly, the disabled, religions, organized labor, and the like.
The second precedent was created by Christian fundamentalists who objected to science instructors teaching the theory of evolution. In the 1920s, more than twenty states passed anti-evolution resolutions. Perhaps the most famous textbook challenge in U.S. history took place in the mid-1920s during the “Scopes trial,” when a substitute biology teacher named John Thomas Scopes challenged Tennessee’s so-called “monkey law” barring the teaching of evolution. The trial featured sparring between Scopes’s legendary lawyer, Clarence Darrow, and Tennessee’s attorney, famed orator William Jennings Bryan. Scopes was convicted (though his conviction was later overturned on a technicality) but Darrow’s biting cross-examination of Bryan did much to discredit the creationists. Six decades later, Christian fundamentalists renewed their attacks on the teaching of evolution and other “secular humanist” subjects and topics—and ultimately succeeded in having an important influence on textbook adoption in Texas.
In 2003, education historian Diane Ravitch published her best-selling book, “The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict Which Students Learn,” which chronicled the continued system of censorship that perverts the content of schoolbooks.

Two years later, my colleague Jay Mathews wrote a great column) pointing out the flaws in the adoption process and calling for an end to it. Let teachers pick their own books, he said.

That’s a fine idea, and it even seemed like it was in the realm of the possible back in 2005.

But since then we have witnessed an assault on traditionally trained public school teachers who have been given scripts by which to teach and evaluation systems that pay them according to how well their students do on a standardized test.

The fact that Jay's suggestion now seems more like part of a fairytale tells you how far we’ve gone in the wrong direction with our “school reform.”

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By Valerie Strauss  | October 20, 2010; 10:10 AM ET
Categories:  Curriculum, History, Textbooks  | Tags:  black confederates, civil war, confederate soldiers, diane ravitch, did blacks fight for the south, history textbooks, jay mathews, textbook adoption, textbooks, the confederacy, virginia textbook, virginia textbooks  
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Comments

That was an interesting summary of one of the major problems in today's schools. I bought and sold a few remaindered sets of the Joy Hakim textbook in my former book shop, and I only wish that I'd had books like that back when I was in sixth grade at Phoebe Hearst.

Posted by: andym108 | October 20, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

This is an excerpt from an earlier post on the Virginia 4th grade text:

"The book also survived the Education Department's vetting and was ruled "accurate and unbiased" by a committee of content specialists and teachers."

Who were these so-called "specialists?" Too many of the 'specialists" and "coordinators" employed by local school divisions haven't seen the inside of a classroom in any meaningful way in years, nor do they want.

And the "specialists" at DOE in this particular content area are, to put it mildly, inept. Have been for years.

But they don't ask hard questions. They don't read, research, or write anything thats's of use to Virginia teachers. They seem to lack any familiarity with what it means to inquire.

Of course, DOE staff take their cues from the top, and
the state superintendent – a consummate bureaucrat – has never been known as a deep thinker (the state Board of Education isn't much better).

Superintendent Pat Wright says that Virginia's Standards of Learning (SOLs) are the perfect tool to prepare students for the "expectations for college and career readiness." Yet some years back when the state SOL Technical Advisory Committee recommended that the state conduct consequential validity tests on the SOLs, the state simply disbanded the committee.

More recently, the president of the state Board of Education wrote a column published in newspapers across the state that strongly defended the quality of the SOLs, calling them a "dynamic and successful" accountability program.

Now, the SOLs may direct teachers in what to teach (since SOL test scores are used to measure "success" under No Child Left Behind – a law that has virtually no research to support its mandates and that's widely viewed as a failure), but there are not many teachers or parents or students who'd call the SOLs either "dynamic" or "successful."

Education in the Commonwealth is in dire need of new leadership.

Posted by: DrDemocracy | October 20, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

plus, if you think about it, the danger of using 'information' on the internet is obvious here for students, teachers, authors, um, all of us.

Posted by: jbmeyers | October 20, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Any information about what Internet sites or sources the textbook author relied on? It's appalling.

Posted by: dcc1968 | October 20, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Your headline says, "The rich irony in Virginia’s history textbook error."

But here's another irony: though the Post's newsgatherers have rightly front-paged these false textbook claims that African-Americans fought for the South, for five years those same newsgatherers have outright ignored the plight of the historic site that says the most about how enslaved Americans really did respond to the Civil War.

The lower Chesapeake Bay's Fort Monroe, as the Union's bastion in Confederate Virginia, saw a good deal of important history, actual history, that was directly contrary to the bogus history that Kevin Sieff exposed on today's front page.

The Army leaves Fort Monroe next year. Virginia's leaders are pushing forward with their plan to create only a tiny, token national park there -- a tiny, token national park that can then be surrounded by financially unnecessary overdevelopment on national historic landmark land, overdevelopment not entirely dissimilar in ill effect to casinos at Gettysburg.

On that land the first captive Africans arrived en route to Jamestown in 1619. Nearly a quarter of a millennium later, the first successful self-emancipators began a tsunami of African-American support for the Union cause there.

Shortly after Fort Sumter, Frank Baker, Sheppard Mallory and James Townsend stood up, took a big risk, escaped enslavement, and claimed sanctuary at Fort Monroe. Word spread. Dozens followed, then scores, then hundreds, then thousands. Eventually, all across the South, tens of thousands escaped slavery that way, many joining the Union cause as laborers or soldiers.

By their own initiative, unbidden by any white politician -- and certainly not aiding the South -- they pushed Lincoln, and history, toward Emancipation. They pushed America toward at least beginning to live out the full meaning of its founding creed.

You want irony? Down here in Tidewater, we're struggling to save Fort Monroe from the narrow, cramped vision of Big Money. Where is the Washington Post?

Steven T. Corneliussen
Co-founder, Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park

Posted by: StevenTCorneliussen | October 20, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

This is a good post that could have used a mention of the 1995 book "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong" by Professor James Loewen. It's an amazingly eye-opening look at textbooks and, I believe, the first to call serious attention to the details of what so many get wrong. Frightening and frustrating at the same time; leaves you wondering if there's even a way to fix the way textbooks are written and approved.

Posted by: scorbett1976@hotmail.com | October 20, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

This is not the first time the Virginia history textbook had false information. When I was in the 5th grade we were told to specifically ignore one section that has been proven false. There was one page, with photo, about a lady who supposedly murdered Native Americans in Viginia then strung up their skulls. How that got past the review board I could never fathom.

Posted by: LisaGrogin | October 20, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Valerie -
Thank you for providing a deeper context through which to understand how bad history is brought to the classroom. This might also be an opportunity to think about how good history is brought to the classroom.
The Teaching American History Grants program of the Department of Education has funded powerful professional development of teachers over most of the last decade, helping teachers help students engage in the kind of historical inquiry that might have prevented Joy Masoff's missteps.
Your column has been a powerful forum to read about what so many see as the Department of Education's recent missteps. I wonder: Do you see the Teaching American History Grants as being an appropriate - and successful - role of the Feds in education? If so, what do you make of its unstable political future?

Posted by: mattk1 | October 20, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Frederick Douglass, Douglass' Monthly, IV [Sept. 1861,] pp 516 - "there are at the present moment many colored men in the Confederate Army - as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops...There were such soldiers at Manassas and they are probably there still."

"Negroes in the Confederate Army," Journal of Negro History, Charles Wesle, Vol. 4, #3, [1919,] 244-245 - "Seventy free blacks enlisted in the Confederate Army in Lynchburg, Virginia. Sixteen companies of free men of color marched through Augusta, Georgia on their way to fight in Virginia." "The part of Adams' Brigade that the 42nd Indiana was facing were the 'Louisiana Tigers.' This name was given to Colonel Gibson's 13th Louisiana Infantry, which included five companies of 'Avegno Zouaves' who still were wearing their once dashing traditional blue jackets, red caps and red baggy trousers. These five Zouaves companies were made up of Irish, Dutch, Negroes, Spaniards, Mexicans, and Italians."

Federal Official Records, Series I, Vol XVI Part I, pg. 805: "There were also quite a number of negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day."

Federal Official Records Series 1, Volume 15, Part 1, Pages 137-138: "Pickets were thrown out that night, and Captain Hennessy, Company E, of the Ninth Connecticut, having been sent out with his company, captured a colored rebel scout, well mounted, who had been sent out to watch our movements."

Here once again I have given Federal records giving proof that there were blacks in the ranks of the Confederacy. You can try to denounce it again and again. But it is there it is the truth. I used the quote from Mr Frederick Douglas and if you look at the date its is 1861. Well before the Emancipation Proclamation and the galvanizing and forced enlistment of blacks in the north. Now why in the world would Frederick Douglas of all people lie about black Confederates.

Posted by: jmasterfunk1 | October 20, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

In regard to the controversy of the approved 4th grade book regarding the civil war the question really should be why this subject is taught at all to 4th graders.

Are 4th graders mature enough to deal with a very complex and controversial subject?

Is education a process to encourage learning and the ability to think or a process of indoctrination?

There are many subjects that can be taught to young children that will encourage their thinking and increase their knowledge base without many of the questionable subject matter that is currently taught and appear only as indoctrination for children to grow up and be either good Republicans or Democrats.

Posted by: bsallamack | October 20, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

"Error" is when you accidentally print incorrect things. "Lie" is when you do it deliberately.

I suggest correcting the headline.

Posted by: GregCleveland | October 20, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Two years later, my colleague Jay Mathews wrote a great column) pointing out the flaws in the adoption process and calling for an end to it. Let teachers pick their own books, he said.
.........................
We are no longer a nation with one room school houses.

The idea of teachers choosing textbooks is an absurdity.

One can imagine numerous textbook salesmen descending on teachers to push the sale of their textbooks.

The problem in public education appears to derive so much from no thought to either the purpose of public education or the complexities of public education.

Posted by: bsallamack | October 20, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

From the main article:

1. "The author, Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian but has written several books...." There's the first problem. Why on earth did the state purchase a "history textbook" written by a person without proper qualifications? (A) For a deliberate propaganda purpose, irrespective of or in direct contravention to the truth; (B) As a political patronage quid pro quo; or (C) Both.

2. "[S]he found the information about black Confederate soldiers primarily through Internet research...." And there's the second problem. Every sentient person in the academic community knows that one can find writings espousing every possible wacky theory on the Internet, with no verification required. Those who rely on Internet "research" for their so-called "scholarship" get what they deserve. See again point #1, above.

Shameful.

Posted by: nan_lynn | October 20, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

First of all, some African Americans did fight for the Confederacy (although possibly not "thousands," and many were slaves who had been taken along by their masters and preferred shooting back to just getting shot).

Second, choosing a history book written by a non-historian goes right along with the tradition of giving the history class to a coach or to whoever happens to have a free period, on the theory that all you need to do to teach history is tell the students to read the book and answer the questions at the back of each chapter.

Third, a history book by a non-historian is probably no worse than the other textbooks. I have worked on textbooks, and the finished product is sometimes far from recognizable to the author of the manuscript. Many edits are made simply for the purpose of making the text fit into a specific space or so there is enough room for the title of the chapter to be a certain size. (One such author demanded that the publisher take her name off the cover because she didn't want to be associated with it as it turned out.)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | October 20, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

The fact, that a handfull Blacks, freeman or otherwise, fought in some Confederate units should not come as a suprise to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of History and the abundance of pecularities imbeded therein. How else could one explain the apparition of a Michael Steele for instance??

Posted by: Bronski | October 20, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

The fact, that a handfull Blacks, freeman or otherwise, fought in some Confederate units should not come as a suprise to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of History and the abundance of pecularities imbeded therein. How else could one explain the apparition of a Michael Steele for instance??

Posted by: Bronski | October 20, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

1). This controversy seems to be about one sentence in an entire book.

2). The sentence seems to have been based on information with identified sources which is widely available on the internet.

3). The author has said she would have removed the sentence if anyone had objected to it.

It seems to me that this is a non-story created by political correctness run amuck.

Posted by: rhhkrnrw | October 20, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

As previous posts have noted, this was a silly topic to include in a 4th-grade textbook, but is not historically inaccurate. Many African Americans did serve as Confederate soldiers. Why? Because they were offered their freedom in return. For more a more detailed discussion on this, see Part 1 of Jay Winik's excellent Civil War history -- April 1865: The Month That Saved America (http://tiny.cc/xa94y).

Posted by: mattmel | October 20, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

That's nothing. Most book say Lincoln freed the slaves,though slavery ended in the US 6 months after his death. And the last state admitted into the Union as a slave state? They teach Missouri but it was West VA,June of '63.(Doesn't look right for a slave state to come into the Union 6 months after "Lincoln freed the slaves" with his emancipation. The list is long.

Posted by: toebo1 | October 20, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

The fact, that a handfull Blacks, freeman or otherwise, fought in some Confederate units should not come as a suprise to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of History and the abundance of pecularities imbeded therein. How else could one explain the apparition of a Michael Steele for instance??

Posted by: Bronski | October 20, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

jmasterfunk1 is correct in saying that there is historical evidence proving that some blacks, both freedmen and enslaved, fought for the Confederacy. The "error" is that they were in the minority. Masoff overstated their numbers. Did she do this intentionally? I doubt it. This seems to me like an example of sloppy research, particularly assessing online sources. Did the Sons of the Confederacy overstate the numbers to suggest that racism wasn't at the heart of the Confederacy? That seems more likely.

Posted by: binaryboy | October 20, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Can't wait for her next book - "Oh Snap! The Encyclopedia of Unforced Errors."

Posted by: mattintx | October 20, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Can't wait for her next book - "Oh Snap! The Encyclopedia of Unforced Errors."

Posted by: mattintx | October 20, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

So it's valid criticism of one book to point out that the author has written other books some of which have silly sounding names?

If nothing else, it's a least a fair gauge of the depth of the critique.

Having read the article and both supporting pieces referenced there, I'm still not sure if the Post is trying to argue about how many black people fought on the side of the Confederacy, or whether there were any at all.

Being 150 years after the event, arguing about how many would seem easy pickings. On the other hand, trying to assert that there were none at all is an absurd bit of revisionism.

Posted by: Snertly | October 20, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

All around this nation, a parallel system of revisionist history is developing in this country, primarily taught from fundamentalist Christian pulpits.
Most of the major areas of education, including history and science, are being revised by televangelistic pastors on local TV stations and in their churches.
They have learned the practice of politics, especially in Texas, but even nationwide.
They worked hard to elect a president twice in 2000 and 2004.
They infiltrated the Pentagon and the military at many levels of command, demanding officers attend "Christian" gatherings if they wanted to advance in their military profession.
They developed universities with their allied law schools, and they have infiltrated the judiciary and the legal system for years.
They've developed a parallel system of human origin, "Creationism", even setting up a "museum", which they are trying to peddle as an alternative to the traditional scientific approach of evolution and anthropology.
This initiative is operating in a number of states.
The whole movement can be traced back to the 1950s when the Republicans got former general Dwight D. Eisenhower elected president, but the Congress was firmly in the Democrats' column.
Little by little, it joined forces with the religious right, especially at their definition of "grassroots" -- local fundamentalist churhes.
In return, the churches extracted support for their desire to revise the political philosophy of our country.
This is just one sentence in a book, but it's part of a pattern of infiltration.
So remain aware and be warned.
It is everywhere right now.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | October 20, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

You can't make this stuff up:

Even as states were leaving the Union, Congress passed the Corwin amendment which would have guaranteed slavery in the South.

Congress passed a resolution after the first Bull Run which stated the war was not being fought to end slavery.

West Virginia, a slave state was admitted to the Union in 1863.

At the Hampton Peace Conference (Feb 1865), Lincoln was willing negotiate away the emancipation proclamation according to first hand accounts from those who attended.

After the Emancipation Proclamation, the North had to conscript or draft men to fight the war. Draft riots broke out in the North. In New York, the riots ended only after troops were pulled from Gettysburg to restore order. The angry mob targeted not only rich Republicans, but also black people.

The Union Army which was answering the "battle cry for freedom" was also engaged in a murderous cleansing of Native Americans.

Is it any wonder why the Answer Sheet would be so threatened by the fact that black people did fight for the Confederacy? Greater study of this material is not favorable to those who chose to pretend the war is over just a single cause.

Posted by: bdonald70 | October 21, 2010 12:14 AM | Report abuse

There used to be at least one leader of the neo-Confederate movement serving on the Virginia board that determines curriculum, if I remember correctly. Perhaps there are others on the textbook committees. Or, considering that Virginia schools appear to be the only ones using Joy Masoff's 'books,' she may have some kind of connection to someone in the education hierarchy. The situation looks fishy.

Most of the neo-Confederate propaganda in these comments, such as a fake quote from Frederick Douglass, is virtually boilerplate. It is repeated whenever the mainstream discusses slavery being the main cause of the Civil War. The reasoning is that if blacks are represented as supporting the Confederacy then they were not opposed to being slaves, ergo, no problem with slavery. No one in his right mind would believe such a claim, but give'em an 'E' for effort.

Posted by: query0 | October 21, 2010 6:59 AM | Report abuse

I would like to see the arguments of the racists--sorry--amateur historians who believe that slaves fought on behalf of the Confederacy. They couldn't own land, they couldn't vote, they couldn't even marry. They were property of a white slaveowner who could (and did) treat them however he wanted. So what was in it for slaves to fight alongside Confederates?

Show me a slave owner who would be willing to hand 10 of his strongest slaves a gun and I'll show you a guy with a really fast horse.

Posted by: Froomkin_fan | October 21, 2010 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Is it any wonder why the Answer Sheet would be so threatened by the fact that black people did fight for the Confederacy?
......................
I would like to see the arguments of the racists--sorry--amateur historians...
.................................
The real problem in public education in this nation is that everyone simply wants to use public education to indoctrinate children.

Great Britain teaches history when children are 11 to 12 years old in the 7th grade.

There is almost no contribution to the education of children in teaching them history as early as the 4th grade.

The reality is that Americans are not concerned about the education of children but are simply concerned about the indoctrination of children.

Posted by: bsallamack | October 21, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Two issues: 1) history textbook written by a unqualified author who was not a historian. 2) said author relied on internet research without collaborating sources. Poor way to educate students, in my opinion...

Posted by: washingtonpost64 | October 21, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe anyone in his or her right mind would believe a black man (free or slave)in the civil war period would fight for ANYTHING let alone his hearth and home (be it ever so humble)against a invading army ,that after visiting your home (be it ever so humble)would leave NOTHING behind for his family.We would be SOOOOO wrong to give the black man the same feelings for his state and home (be it ever so humble) as a white man. Silly people.

Posted by: upton2 | October 21, 2010 11:09 PM | Report abuse

Valerie Strauss was kind enough to say some good words about my books, which are intended to teach reading and critical thinking as well as history. Having participated in many adoptions, this one was strange from the beginning. It seemed clear that someone in Richmond wanted the Five Ponds books adopted and others (like mine) kept out. That hadn't happened to me before. As for Jay Matthew's suggestion that teachers pick their own books--yes, if they choose from a vetted list. The idea that all teachers are alike and should use the same tools doesn't work for teachers or for their diverse students. Besides, the winner takes all system makes adoptions huge money opportunities for a few big publishers--and keeps good books (especially low priced classics) out of classrooms.

Posted by: joyhakim | October 25, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

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