Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The insidiousness of misinformation

At least they didn't put black Confederates on the cover. What an embarrassment. A public school textbook for 4th graders in Virginia published black Confederate mythology as if it were fact, because the author did her research on the internet (Sons of Confederate Veteran websites), and because the review process for Virginia textbooks is apparently fatally flawed.

The passage on black Confederates goes so far as to claim two battalions of southern blacks fought under Stonewall Jackson. In defense, the author of the textbook, Joy Masoffwho describes herself as "a fairly respected writer"said, "It's just one sentence. I don't want to ruffle any feathers. If the historians had contacted me and asked me to take it out, I would have."

It's bad enough that neo-Confederates and other alternative history types teach their own children that the Civil War wasn't about slaverythey have a right to misinform their own offspring. But for their revisionist nonsense to make it into a public school textbook is a travesty.

Masoff says it's only "one sentence," but it's more than that. One or two sentences like that call the whole book into question. It should be scrutinized cover to cover by competent historians. Up till now, wild-eyed claims about black Confederates were restricted to a relatively small segment of society that is desperate to believe that slavery was not central to the secession crisis, and the war. If blacks fought on behalf of the Confederacy, the thinking goes, then the war must not have been about slavery, and The Cause was glorious after all! Whew, glad we cleared that up.

Debunking fairy tales about black Confederates has become something of a hobby for blogger Kevin Levin, and the rest of us are grateful for the public service he performs (now we can just link to some of his essays on the subject and save a lot of typing). But no one thought that stuff would make it into actual textbooks. This is akin to a new drug-resistant staff infection escaping the hospital and taking root in the community. 

Of course this is the state in which the governor, in explaining why his Confederate History Month proclamation made no mention of slavery, explained that "obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia." Meaning, slavery was not among the most significant issues. Ironically, that guy on the cover of the 4th grade textbook, Thomas Jefferson, suggested that slaverywhich in this country dates to Jamestownwas the rock upon which the country would be split.

We let down our guard, and now the problem is spreading. The dumbing down has become institutionalized with outright falsehoods. Maybe I'm overreacting, but minutes before I read the Post article about black Confederates, I listened to audio of Delaware senate candidate Christine O'Donnell scornfully challenging her opponent because he claimed the First Amendment spoke of the separation of church and state. I think she was angling to point out that the phrase "separation of church and state" is not literally written there. All of this to support her contention that people have a "constitutional right" to have Intelligent Design taught in their local public schools.

The wheels are coming off.


James F. Epperson said...

It's not like her previous books were paragons of scholarship, either.

Ron said...

Amen! You sum up perfectly my feelings about this travesty, as you so appropriately call it. I actually live and Virginia and have to worry about my kids being exposed to such lies when they enter school. At least I know enough to help them learn the historically accurate version.

I am quite perplexed as to how state educational bodies could have let something like this slip by. Then again, look at the history standards that were being pushed in Texas recently.

Andy Hall said...

Ron said:

> Then again, look at the history standards that were
> being pushed in Texas recently.

Thomas Jefferson -- who's that?