How to tell the textbook approval process is broken: Virginia’s voodoo history

4th graders in Virginia could learn from their history texts that thousands of African Americans formed battalions in the Confederate Army and fought to save the South, during the Civil War — entire battalions under Gen. Stonewall Jackson.

That’s what the book claims, anyway.  It’s fiction.  The author fell victim to a hoax.

Kevin Sieff exposed the book in The Washington Post last week.  Virginia education officials quickly moved to discourage teachers from teaching the erroneous passages.  Some education authorities pulled the books.  The incident exposes problems in the textbook approval processes popular in southern states.

If you had hoped textbook craziness was confined to Texas, you know better now.


9 Responses to How to tell the textbook approval process is broken: Virginia’s voodoo history

  1. I suspect we’ll find out here in Texas, soon. My wife is a high school history teacher, using ten year old books.


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Sheesh, Dave! That hurts!

    Which is worse, to be able to afford to buy textbooks with gross errors in them, or have standards that mislead, but not have any money to buy the textbooks to spread the bad word?



  3. At least Virginia can afford to buy textbooks.


  4. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    I’ve read of black construction gangs, black teamsters, black cooks, black valets … basically the same chores they did domestically they did for the Army.

    But arming tens of thousands of slaves, and teaching them to shoot straight, and teaching them military organization and discipline? When teaching slaves to read was a crime?

    NOTE: I have seen a diary extract from an ancestress who armed her household’s slaves to fight off the British in the War of 1812. She not only armed them, she led them.


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Kevin Levin’s blog has the best coverage of this issue I’ve seen, Mr. Hanley. I think that’s where I saw that the author had defended her work as supportable . . . but then, she did her research on the internet.

    This post of Levin’s at Civil War Memory probably provides most of the best answers to the author’s defense:

    Masoff defended her work. “As controversial as it is, I stand by what I write,” she said. “I am a fairly respected writer.”

    The issues first came to light after College of William & Mary historian Carol Sheriff opened her daughter’s copy of “Our Virginia” and saw the reference to black Confederate soldiers.

    “It’s disconcerting that the next generation is being taught history based on an unfounded claim instead of accepted scholarship,” Sheriff said. “It concerns me not just as a professional historian but as a parent.”

    Virginia, which is preparing to mark the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, has long struggled to appropriately commemorate its Confederate past. The debate was reinvigorated this spring, when Gov. Robert F. Mc­Don­nell (R) introduced “Confederate History Month” in Virginia without mentioning slavery’s role in the Civil War. He later apologized.

    The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group of male descendants of Confederate soldiers based in Columbia, Tenn., has long maintained that substantial numbers of black soldiers fought for the South The group’s historian-in-chief, Charles Kelly Barrow, has written the book “Black Confederates.”

    The Sons of Confederate Veterans also disputes the widely accepted conclusion that the struggle over slavery was the main cause of the Civil War. Instead, the group says, the war was fought “to preserve their homes and livelihood,” according to John Sawyer, chief of staff of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Army of Northern Virginia. He said the group was pleased that a state textbook accepted some of its views.

    The state’s curriculum requires textbook publishers and educators to explore the role African Americans played in the Confederacy, including their work on plantations and on the sidelines of battle. Those standards have evolved in recent years to make lessons on the Civil War more inclusive in a state that is growing increasingly diverse.

    When Masoff began work on the textbook, she said she consulted a variety of sources — history books, experts and the Internet. But when it came to one of the Civil War’s most controversial themes — the role of African Americans in the Confederacy — she relied primarily on an Internet search.

    The book’s publisher, Five Ponds Press, based in Weston, Conn., sent a Post reporter three of the links Masoff found on the Internet. Each referred to work by Sons of the Confederate Veterans or others who contend that the fight over slavery was not the main cause of the Civil War.

    Levin’s blog is a great read anyway, almost all of the time. He knows a lot more about most of his topics that I do about mine, and he writes concisely and well. Go take a look.


  6. […] here’s a story via Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub* about a history textbook approved for 4th graders in Virginia […]


  7. James Hanley says:

    Anyone who doesn’t question whether southerners would really have accepted whole battalions of armed black men hasn’t developed the necessary critical thinking skills to be either a textbook writer or approver, or to be a teacher.

    I guess I can imagine a handful of people (but only a handful, even in the South) who so desperately want to believe in the glory of their history that they would uncritically accept the idea that even blacks rallied to their “noble” cause. But…but… OK, I’m speechless now.

    Any word on the author’s response?


  8. Jim Stanley says:

    By way of a business I run, I am forced to travel in some pretty “unreconstructed” circles. I encounter no small number of folks who still believe this — hundreds of thousands of slaves fought for the Confederacy of their own free will.

    On the basis of logic alone, this is absurd. And it’s, as Ed points out, historical myth.

    True — a small number of blacks did serve in the Confederate military. A very small number. And the vast majority were slaves FORCED to do so. Some went along with their masters, who were officers. They didn’t fight, they polished boots, tended master’s horse, fetched his water, whatever. Others were impressed into service as ditch diggers or other workers. Hardly soldiers.

    If a few blacks with pro-slavery sympathies were actual combat soldiers, they were rare in the extreme…and probably Caribbean or European slaveholders themselves.


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