Guest Author - Debora Dyess
The textbook "Our Virginia", written by a non-historian for fourth graders in Virginia, is full of errors and inaccurate statements and figures. When a mother of one of the students learning from "Our Virginia" looked over the book in October (2010) she found a number of errors, beginning with a statement that thousands of African-Americans fought in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy. While there are bits of information indicating that African-Americans did indeed fight for the Confederacy, most reputable historians believe these men were slaves forced to fight.
More evidence points to the 200,000 Afircan-Americans, or about 10% of the total forces, who fought on the side of the Union. A total of 38,000 were killed or wounded fighting for freedom.
During the Civil War, the Northern states fought against slavery, where it had begun to die out due to advances in machinery in the workplace. The Southern states fought to keep slavery in place, and for the right of States to make their own decisions, without 'interference' of the federal government. The South was mostly agricultural, and slave labor was used to tend the large farms and ranches.
Once the problems of "Our Virginia" were brought to the attention of the administrators in the Virginia districts that purchased and were using the books, a team of historians were hired to fact-check the textbook. Dozens of errors were found in every category. The book publisher suggested that stickers with accurate information be put over the sections with the errors. The response to that idea was that they didn’t have enough stickers in the state to remedy the mistakes.
When asked, the author of the text said that while she did use the internet as a resource, it was not the only information she used. Using articles from Internet sites is often problematic. Most sites don’t require fact-checking before publication. Some sites do fact-check every article, or articles of authors who have shown a history of ‘creative research’. When using the Web as a research source, most professionals try to back up information found in print texts, which typically do more strict checking of information provided due to the cost of printing.
Of course, that didn’t hold true in the case of "Our Virginia".
The errors in the textbook has left Virginia school district administrators scratching their heads. With their history text budget already tied up in an inaccurate book, they have to decide what to do for the next few years.
Publishers of the errant text assure educators that the second edition will be fact-checked and corrected.