Having grown up (or at least physiologically developed) in Virginia, this story about the totally awesome and rigorous history textbooks used in what are the wealthier counties in the state is not at all surprising, though depressing (italics mine):
In the version of history being taught in some Virginia classrooms, New Orleans began the 1800s as a bustling U.S. harbor (instead of as a Spanish colonial one). The Confederacy included 12 states (instead of 11). And the United States entered World War I in 1916 (instead of in 1917)….
Historian Mary Miley Theobald, a former Virginia Commonwealth University professor, reviewed “Our America” and concluded that it was “just too shocking for words.”
“Any literate person could have opened that book and immediately found a mistake,” she said.
Theobald’s list of errors spanned 10 pages, including inaccurate claims that men in Colonial Virginia commonly wore full suits of armor and that no Americans survived the Battle of the Alamo. Most historians say that some survived.
What? You’ve never seen all the people at Williamsburg walking around in full suits of armor?
So why did these school systems, which bill themselves as having excellent schools, choose these books? Lowest contract bid:
Five Ponds Press provides books mainly to the Virginia Department of Education. The department is required to find texts that meet the state’s stringent Standards of Learning, which includes lists of themes that each textbook must cover. That disqualifies many books produced for the national textbook market….
The creation of Standards of Learning requirements helped create niche markets for smaller publishers, including Five Ponds Press. One of its early books was “Mali: Land of Gold & Glory,” which, according to news reports, was crafted to fit a newly introduced Standards of Learning theme.
Five Ponds Press gradually expanded to other subject areas, filling a growing portion of Virginia’s $70 million-a-year textbook market. Many larger publishers employ professional historians, but all of the books by Five Ponds Press have been written by Masoff, who is not a trained historian. Other titles by her include “Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty” and “Oh, Yikes! History’s Grossest, Wackiest Moments.”
…School districts choose textbooks from a list approved by the state. Among the factors is price. The books by Five Ponds Press often are less expensive than those produced by larger publishers….
“They are willing to go to great lengths for our business. Their product is substantially less expensive than the committee’s next highest-rated competitor – very appealing in these lean economic times,” said Kenneth Bassett, Prince William’s social studies supervisor.
One hopes the damage is reversible.