Joy Masoff’s book Our Virginia: Past and Present, published by Five Ponds Press, a book for fourth-graders in Virginia, falsely claims that thousands of African-Americans fought for the South in the Civil War. Of course some did. Slaves don’t have much say in such things. But what Masoff has written is not true. That her book should contain such errors ought not to be surprising, since she is not a trained historian and made her claim on the basis of something she found on the internet. Fortunately this book was not given to children in Rockbridge County [where I live] as far as I know. But it is an issue that should still concern us here. It certainly concerns our Governor, who has ordered a review of Virginia’s textbook adoption system.
Some people are calling this a great opportunity for children to learn not to believe everything they read. But how are children to learn if they question everything their teachers say? Or everything they read in state-approved textbooks? Are fourth-graders supposed to fact-check the material we ask them to read? If so, how exactly are they supposed to do it? If they learn anything from this sorry episode it should be not to trust material they find on the internet, where anyone can post anything.
So should we take them to the libraries at VMI or Washington and Lee [the two local colleges] so they can do their own research? I think they might be a little young for that.
This is not a learning opportunity or “teachable moment” for our children. It is a wake-up call for parents and anyone else who cares about the education of young Virginians. We need to get amateurishness and propaganda (where do you think Masoff got her ‘information’ from?) out of the classroom. And it is important too that our children learn that there is such a thing as truth, that one source is not just as good as another, and that there are facts, not just different opinions. It would be nice if the people in Richmond realized this too and chose a textbook written by a real expert next time.
Any suggestions for improvement will be gratefully received.
UPDATE: the letter was published and several people have said they liked it. Tomorrow (Wednesday) I'll find out whether anyone has responded.