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Posted at 8:39 AM ET, 01/ 4/2011

Mixing up Mount Vernon and Monticello?

By Paige Winfield Cunningham

What's worse? A textbook that mixes up Mount Vernon and Monticello, or one that claims the Confederacy included one too many states? Oddly enough, that's a decision being made by Virginia educators as they select textbooks that cover all of the topics required by Virginia's Standards of Learning.

It's an example of how, in a complex society, there are few good policies that don't have bad side effects (like how providing welfare can diminish incentives to find a job). It looks like the SOL's -- intended to improve education in Virginia schools -- have also reduced the number of textbooks from which officials can choose.

Because many textbooks used around the country don't cover the specific subject material required by the SOL's, the company recently found to be producing erroneous textbooks has tailored materials for the state tests. This publisher, Five Ponds Press, doesn't employ a professional historian to write its books.

So why do school officials still use the books? Prince William County's social studies supervisor seemed to think they're the lesser of two evils, telling the Post of the Monticello/Mount Vernon flip-flop in another book he'd considered.

Not that it's anything new for Americans to worry about their schools. Education is usually near the top of the list of our first-world angst -- except that the worry typically centers on how to provide more laptops for students or how to raise their scores on college prep exams, not about whether they are being giving misinformation.

When covering schools, I've often been surprised by how little emphasis is placed on what is taught, as opposed to how it is taught. For instance, the Alexandria curriculum is being revamped to include 16 "Habits of Mind" put together by education consultant Bena Kallick and which include goals like "thinking interdependently" and "finding humor."

It's not that educators shouldn't work on developing the whole the student. It's true that school teaches you how to learn. But perhaps this little scandal will remind us that modern methods can only go so far without textbooks that correctly identify when the United States entered World War II.

Paige Winfield Cunningham is an investigative reporter and managing editor at Old Dominion Watchdog. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Paige Winfield Cunningham  | January 4, 2011; 8:39 AM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Virginia, education  
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