Some of you may be familiar with the controversy surrounding the Virginia elementary school textbook, Our Virginia: Past and Present. This is the textbook that claimed falsely that thousands of African-Americans fought in the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Over at the blog of the Historical Society, Randall Stephens writes about the findings of the “Report on the Review of Virginia’s Textbook Adoption Process…” If you don’t want to read the entire report, Stephens breaks it down for us.
Here is just one part of the report, a section critiquing the textbook’s coverage of colonial literacy:
“Very few people in colonial America could read . . .” This is a myth. The overwhelming majority of white colonists were literate. In New England, literacy rates were higher than elsewhere because there were more schools and there was an emphasis on learning to read the Bible, but even in Virginia and other Southern colonies, almost all white men and even most white women could read in the eighteenth century. Percentages change over time, always growing larger, but even in the seventeenth century, about 60% of men in Virginia could read and about a quarter of the women. Figures are higher for the northern colonies. At no time in American history did “very few people” know how to read (unless one is talking about African Americans or Native Americans).
Tom Van Dyke says
TWO inaccuracies in the textbook? I bet there's at least three.
Good lord — I would write for the K-12 textbook market for free, as a public service. I'm not Richard Hofstadter, but surely I could do a better job than this. I know that I'm being trained to write for a different audience, and rightly so. But somebody has to write those textbooks, and publishers could do worse than history PhD students. Apparently, they could do much worse.
John Fea says
Preach it, LD!
And thanks for your recent comments! I have been keeping an eye on your blog and hope to do a post on one of your posts in the near future. Keep writing.
Oh mercy. Clearly I'm about to come down with a severe case of writer's block. But thank you.
Tom: It would have been nice if there had only been two mistakes. Have a look at the official review. There are loads of factual, chronological, and other errors.