We were discussing the controversy over the inaccuracies found in the textbook Our Virginia, Past and Present, used in some Virginia classrooms, in our office and we wondered if teachers in the History Explorers group were planning to discuss this issue with students.
Will you be using this event to examine the importance of questioning sources and to improve students’ information literacy--or to teach other lessons? Have you found errors in your own textbooks, and how have you addressed them with students? Do you prefer to use textbooks on a limited basis or not at all?
Here’s a link to the Washington Post article from December about the topic: Some Va. history texts filled with errors, review finds
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
It's really sad that economics is such a driving force in everything we do including selecting textbooks. To quote from the article you referenced, "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." The article explains that Five Ponds Press does not have a professional historian on staff which may explain why there are so many inaccuracies in the textbook. There is mention that this publishing company now plans to hire an historian.
Having been a Virginia educator for 30+ years, it's very frustrating to think that a textbook on the state adoption list would be so flawed. I am not a social studies teacher, but as an English teacher I taught much history in relation to literary periods.
Our school district is dealing with this textbook problem because in a recent adoption, Our Virginia, Past and Present, was chosen to replace the old textbooks. Now we are trying to find money in the budget to purchase another social studies book for next year.
I'm sorry to hear about your district. Do you know how they will find the money for new books? And do you have a sense of how your friends in social studies and their students have responded to this controversy? Are teachers discussing it with their students outright, or not? If they are, what lessons are they (both teachers and students) drawing from it?
Although this is a particularly egregious example, as the article notes, there are inaccuracies or overgeneralizations that can lead to confusion in many textbooks. I remember teaching with a book that placed a shipyard near my school in the wrong state--a minor mistake, and not one that would change the understanding of the topic, but one I thought worth discussing. It jumped out us since we were located nearby, but it's one we might have missed if we didn't already know enough about the topic. So, it was a reminder to examine our sources closely, to check anything we read against other sources, and to consider authority. It is so easy for students to forget that textbooks are interpretations, written by people, with their own interests and biases (and in this case, without a team that included the professional training needed for the project).
It's interesting that this issue revolves around state history, b/c that is the same situation I have found in my state. Several years ago, I was teaching fourth grade (Alabama History) and using the state adopted textbook. Since I was new to the grade, I didn't have a tremendous amount of background knowledge and followed the textbook quite closely. The second year I taught it, I was in a summer social studies workshop where we were asked to create a new unit. I chose a topic I was unfamiliar with to build my knowledge. In my research I found that our textbook had published as fact, a completely untrue reporting of events. Something published in a newspaper in the 1800's-an article full of inaccuracies to sway the people of the state to determine the new location of the state capital-was published in my state history textbook as a fact. It was an eye-opener for me and even though I don't teach state history anymore and we've since adopted a new book, I still use this example to remind my students to use MANY sources for information to confirm what may or may not have happened. I tell them a textbook is going to give them the sanitized, short version and it's hard to do much historical thinking using textbook information only.
I find that many mistakes amazing. I loved this statement:
"The book's author, Joy Masoff, said at the time that she found references to it during research on the Internet."
Sounds like a middle school student.
Schools can't afford to make these kinds of mistakes, and apparently they're not uncommon. (and some of the mistakes may not be caught by teachers unfamiliar with that particular event) Has anyone discussed digital textbooks, or open source textbooks? As more resources are pulled from the web, has anyone considered creating a list of trusted sources and approved sites that have been peer-reviewed?
Just saw this blog post (with a bunch of great comments) from Edutopia on open source textbooks--thought the group might be interested:
I've known of Open-Source Software but had not heard of Open-Source Textbooks. It's an interesting possibility to explore due to economic woes faced by many school districts. I wonder if there are experts monitoring Open-Source Textbooks to make certain the information is accurate. I too would be interested in knowing if there is a site that provides a list of trusted sources and approved sites. Since Web 2.0 tools allow for individual input such as Wikipedia, I'm a little skeptical that all information supplied is truly factual and reliable.
I'm not sure how Wikipedia provides those kinds of controls to make sure the info is vetted and accurate, or if there are controls at all. I usually figure Wikipedia is "right" on just raw info, like birth and death dates, etc. For more difficult questions, I may look at Wikipedia, and then try to corroborate with another (hopefully authoratitive) source.
At the West Virginia Encyclopedia, we try to make sure we can be a "trusted source." In fact, at a meeting of a number of state and regional online encyclopedias last week, the idea of being a "trusted source" came up and we discussed this very issue (of the Virginia textbook fiasco). If your online encyclopedia uses the same rules as a print encyclopedia (trusted, knowledgeable authors, studious fact-checking, etc), then the online version should be trustworthy. I would expect an online or open source textbook would require the same. Web 2.0 is nice, but you still need to have trustworthy collborators.
But Lord, if we can get away from killing trees every few years to reprint almost the same information (really, do we buy textbooks for new information or because the books are wearing out?) and maybe the wrong information, that's got to be a Good Thing.
I'm glad to know about the West Virginia Encyclopedia from the West Virginia Humanites council. I also like the Virginia Encyclopedia.
I wish more social studies teachers knew about and used these respected resources in their classrooms.
It seems to me that NEH or the State Humanities Councils should create a website with links to every state encyclopeida and then develop workshops for teachers in how to use them.
The following article from the Media General News Service is an update on the Virginia textbook controversy detailing how the State Board of Education recently responded by establishing new guidelines for textbook adoptions.
RICHMOND, Va. --
The State Board of Education established guidelines Thursday (March 24, 2011) that thoroughly vet textbooks to prevent substantial factual errors from reaching students.
The Virginia Department of Education revised its process for approving school textbooks after two department-approved fourth-grade and fifth-grade history textbooks published by Five Ponds Press were discovered last year to have significant errors.
"The (new) process places primary responsibility on publishers to ensure the accuracy of their textbooks," said Linda Wallinger, assistant superintendent for public instruction.
The two books, Our Virginia: Past and Present and Our America To 1865 were removed Thursday from the board's approved textbook list by unanimous vote.
The Education Department ordered a review of the textbooks after the discovery of an inaccurate passage about the number of blacks who fought for the Confederacy.
Textbooks must now include a certification from publishers that each textbook submitted for approval was reviewed for factual accuracy by at least three content-review experts qualified in the subject matter. Also, if any substantial factual inaccuracies were later found, the publisher would submit a corrective plan within 30 days and fix the errors at their expense. However, school divisions maintain the option of choosing textbooks that are not approved by the Board of Education.
Board Member David M. Foster said this new procedure minimizes the likelihood of "egregious errors" being in approved textbooks. Foster hopes school divisions that choose books not approved by the state follow similar guidelines in their textbook selection process.
I see that the NEH funded Encyclopedia Virginia has a great article on Black Confederates. Would be a good read this summer for history students.