History in class, not a fairytale
The Amherst New Era-Progress
October 27, 2010
History — the events of the past that make up our collective experience — are immutable and carved in stone. The interpretation of those events, however, are as malleable as a lump of clay.
That was brought home this week when news trickled out that a new Virginia history textbook, distributed this fall in fourth grades across the Old Dominion, asserted that thousands of black Americans fought and died for the Confederacy during the Civil. The author, Joy Masoff, goes on to state there were two black battalions that fought under the command of Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.
The first claim is a stretch, historians say, because there were indeed blacks in the Confederate ranks. But not nearly in the numbers Masoff asserts in “Virginia: Past and Present.”
The second claim, which Masoff says she found online in her research for the book, is blatantly false, Civil War historians say.
Masoff, who is not a historian but was hired by Weston, Conn.-based Five Ponds Press to write the history book, gleaned much of the information she based her claims on from Web searches that led to published works by members of Confederate heritage groups, including the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
These heritage groups have been trying for decades to debunk the claim that slavery was the primary force that led America into a civil war in 1861.
Owning other people wasn’t the cause of the war, they say. Instead, as John Sawyer, the chief of staff of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Army of Northern Virginia chapter told The Washington Post, it was a war “to preserve their homes and livelihood.” He went on to tell The Post the SCV was pleased that a state textbook had accepted some of its views.
Absolutely not, Mr. Sawyer. Absolutely not.
Masoff’s manuscript underwent a review by three elementary school teachers, none trained in history, who only evaluated it for its teachability. They were not tasked with evaluating its historical claims, nor were they trained to do so.
The controversy surrounding the textbook has drawn attention this year for two reasons: the upcoming 150th anniversary of the 1861 start of the Civil War and the last April’s proclamation by Gov. Bob McDonnell of Confederate History Month in which he failed to make any mention of the institution of slavery.
We’ve said it before, and it bears repeating again: The primary cause of the Civil War and the four years of horrific bloodshed was slavery. It’s a fact. You can argue until you’re blue in the face that it was an economic confrontation, a states’ rights battle, a constitutional crisis, but the fact remains that slavery is the core reason for the Civil War.
The economy of the Northern states was evolving into a free market, capitalist industrial economy.
The economy of the South was a feudal economy based upon the literal ownership of the workers by the society’s moneyed elites, predicated upon the color of one’s skin.
That is history.
That is the truth.
And Virginia’s textbooks should be teaching the truth to our students, not some fuzzy, feel-good pabulum that makes us feel good about ourselves.
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