I’m guessing that by this point, a lot of OpEdge readers have seen the news that a new history book that the Virginia Department of Education has approved for use in 4th grade passes off the bold-faced lie that thousands of African-Americans fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. As the Washington Post pointed out, “Scholars are nearly unanimous in calling these accounts of black Confederate soldiers a misrepresentation of history.”
The absurd notion that slaves who were worked to death, beaten, raped and often saw their families torn apart would fight for their oppressors appears in “Our Virginia: Past and Present,” which was distributed to Virginia’s public elementary schools for the first time last month. The author, Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian, said she found the information about black Confederate soldiers through Internet research, all of which led to the same source, the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
And what is the reaction of Virginia education officials? According to the Washington Post, the Virginia Department of Education says it intends to contact school districts across the state to caution them against teaching the passage which proposes this lie.
Let’s set aside the fact that Virginia education officials never should have used a text book not written by a professional historian, and instead look at their reaction to discovering that Virginia was duped by apologists for the “Old South.” All Virginia state education officials are going to do is issue a warning to ignore the false material in the book. I have two concerns:
- What about the benighted or racist teacher who decides to teach the paragraph regardless of the advice from the Board of Education, or the teacher who never gets the memo?
- What about the students who read more than what is assigned, the ones who devour the entire book because they love history? For example, when I heard about this fiasco, the first thing I thought about was my son, now finishing his undergraduate degree in structural engineering, who read every word of his 4th-grade history book within weeks of getting it because he loved history so much.
I know it costs a lot of money to toss out one history book and buy another and I know money is tight for public education everywhere in the country. But Virginia made a mistake selecting a book written by a non-professional historian and the mistake could lead to impressionable young minds getting a distorted view about an important, if tragic, aspect of our nation’s history.
Let’s put it in terms of a hypothetical question to which I believe we all know the answer: Is the state of Virginia and/or any of its school districts going to spend any money over the next five years to improve football facilities at any public school or public university?
To my way of thinking, any money earmarked for improving football programs would be better spent ensuring that 4th-graders have professionally written, accurate history books which do not spread lies, and especially lies about the shameful period of history when the United States of America allowed slavery and about the heroic fight by the Army of the United States against immoral slave owners who had enough political control of 13 states to convince them to try to secede from the union.