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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 01/ 8/2011

Why Fairfax's textbook recall is surprising

By Valerie Strauss

What is surprising about Fairfax County’s new recall of a social studies textbook approved by Virginia officials despite containing dozens of errors is that every other system using the book hasn't done the same thing.

My colleague Kevin Sieff reported that the superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, Jack D. Dale, has decided that fourth-grade history will be taught using supplemental materials until errors in "Our Virginia, Past and Present" are corrected in a subsequent edition.

The book, published by Connecticut-based Five Ponds Press, was written by Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian and who included erroneous information she said she found on the internet. Some of her previous works: "Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty" and "Oh Yikes! History’s Grossest Moments."

One of the big mistakes in the social students textbook she wrote was inclusion of a myth that thousands of African Americans fought for the Confederates in the Civil War. This and other errors eluded a long list of people who were involved in Virginia’s latest textbook adoption process last year. Did nobody not know this was false? How is that possible?

Meanwhile, an award-winning 10-volume history series (about which I have written several times) by Joy Hakim, called A History of US, had a much harder time getting adopted in the Virginia textbook sweepstakes.

Hakim’s books are not traditional, dry textbooks but are filled with rich stories and colorful language that have proved successful in elementary, middle school, high school and even college classes. It has captured 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.

Hakim had a hard time getting the books published; she was asked repeatedly to change material; for example, using “enslaved person” instead of slave, but she refused though other authors didn't. Once she found little Oxford University Press to publish the books, she had an even harder time getting them into classrooms. The big publishing companies have big marketing departments; Oxford doesn't.

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.

Yes, those were questioned. The black Confederate soldier myth was not.

It makes you wonder why any school district would want to use books with major errors written into them.

Hakim and others argue that the textbook adoption process is so flawed that it should be eliminated.

About 20 states undergo textbook adoption processes. Committees are formed to review the proposals, and lobbyists working for publishing company do everything they can to woo the panel members. State officials are more interested in whether their long list of content standards are addressed in the books and to political sensitivities than they are in book quality. A lot of textbooks are just plain awful.

On her blog, Hakim made these suggestions for improving how we use textbooks:

*Have closed adoptions. No salespeople allowed. Just let books and other teaching materials speak for themselves to teachers and committees who make choices. Have a subcommittee of children read the books and submit their thoughts to those committees. If a book doesn’t work for its potential readers, it shouldn’t be adopted.

*Consider giving teachers a choice of books. Let schools or even individual teachers pick books from a vetted list. Let individual teachers who take the time to do research, have some leeway if they want to pick volumes not on the list. Teaching U.S. history, or any subject, with good bookstore books, rather than texts, makes a lot of sense if a sophisticated teacher wants to go that route.

*Yes, the money-management folks will talk about the savings from mass purchases. I question that. Most standard textbooks are outrageously overpriced. Those massive adoptions bring billions of dollars in annual income to a few publishers whose goal, as with most businesses, is to make money. Educating children is a minor consideration.

Makes sense to me.


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By Valerie Strauss  | January 8, 2011; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  History, Textbooks  | Tags:  a history of us, errors in textbooks, history textbooks, joy hakim, textbook adoption, textbook adoption process, textbook recall, textbooks, virginia social studies textbooks, virginia textbooks  
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Political correctness rules the teachers union:

Posted by: jaguar6cy | January 8, 2011 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Could the author of this article please provide her basis for saying that african americans did not fight for the south during the civil war? I'm no expert, but from my research it seems that this is a false statement.

Posted by: mussaw81 | January 8, 2011 2:46 PM | Report abuse

"Political correctness?"

How about just getting the history right?

Posted by: ennepe68 | January 8, 2011 4:26 PM | Report abuse

"I'm no expert, but from my research it seems that this is a false statement."

Correct, you are no expert.

"The review began after The Washington Post reported in October that "Our Virginia" included a sentence saying that thousands of black soldiers fought for the South. The claim is one often made by Confederate heritage groups but rejected by most mainstream historians. The book's author, Joy Masoff, said at the time that she found references to it during research on the Internet. Five Ponds Press later apologized."

Posted by: Trev1 | January 8, 2011 10:04 PM | Report abuse

I found a site where you can get coupons for restaurant called "Printapons" they are on all over the news, search online

Posted by: rubytrig | January 9, 2011 12:49 AM | Report abuse

I would give my eye-teeth to teach Spanish with textbooks written by Spanish authors and published in Spain, but they're not on the approved list in our state. So we use boring, confusing, irrelevant books with lots of bells and whistles. I'm sometimes frustrated to the point of screaming. Ms. Hakim is correct--textbooks are all about making money, not about educating children.

Posted by: pattipeg1 | January 9, 2011 7:21 AM | Report abuse

"using “enslaved person” instead of slave, but she refused though other authors didn't'"

Which formation did Ms. Hakim use? Your writing is very unclear. "Enslaved person" is the preferred formation.

What amuses me is that it is quite infrequent that a teacher made it through the entire textbook in any class I've taken. The pace of most American schools is so ridiculously slow that textbook completeness is hardly a serious concern.

I'd also recommend checking out this link from the Library of Congress before jumping to conclusions about the participation of enslaved persons in the Civil War. While they may not have been regulars in the Confederate Army, there is significant evidence that they fought against the Union Army.
"In the Civil War, 200,000 fought in the Federal Army for their own freedom and the preservation of the Union. Three million slaves made crops by day and protected homes by night, of their masters who were fighting to keep them in bondage. Such loyalty and devotion have never been surpassed by any people in any period of history. In the World War 380,000 were enrolled - 200,000 of whom saw service in France. The Negro has fought valiantly in every American War and has yet to produce a traitor to the flat!"

Posted by: staticvars | January 9, 2011 9:53 PM | Report abuse

My mother's students once brought her their science book, asking if it were true that for a plane to fly, "lift plus thrust must equal weight plus frag." Obviously, if the forces are equal that plane's not going to move.

A few days later, she unwittingly read to her class the first sentence in a chapter from the sixth-grade social studies book: "The population of most of the countries of the world is divided into two sexes." You can imagine trying to keep order among a bunch of bright sixth-graders after that sentence.

As she and her fellow teachers asked, "Doesn't anybody READ these books before they're printed?"

The answer seems to be NO.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | January 10, 2011 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if a "suspension" is equivalent to a "recall," but Loudoun pulled the books from its classrooms nearly three months ago.
Loudoun suspends disputed textbook
Saturday, October 23, 2010

Loudoun County school officials have decided to pull "Our Virginia" from its fourth-grade classrooms because of its dubious claim about thousands of black soldiers fighting for the South during the Civil War.

Schools spokesman Wayde Byard said "Our Virginia" was removed from classrooms Wednesday. "The book will remain suspended until the state reviews the entire text and issues supplemental material or corrections," he said Friday.

Posted by: JDunning | January 10, 2011 11:33 PM | Report abuse

Blacks did serve in the Confederate army. But maybe the National Park Service it lying too.

"When Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox, thirty-six African-Americans were listed on the Confederate paroles. Most were either servants, free blacks, musicians, cooks, teamsters or blacksmiths. Few Black southerners served as combat troops in the Confederate Army, many served on other capacities."

Posted by: McWayne | January 12, 2011 10:24 AM | Report abuse

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