Amazingly, the state Board of Education has still not attempted to fire the publishing company that was at the center of a nationwide scandal last year. It seems that authorizing unqualified writers to craft its textbooks isn’t enough for Virginia to give them the boot. Fortunately, civil rights leaders have recently decided to step in and take matters into their own hands, asking like-minded adults and students to help as well.
Last year, two error-filled history books published by Five Ponds Press made their way into dozens of classrooms all across Virginia. The most erroneous claim – an exaggeration that “thousands” of African Americans willingly fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War – caused nationwide havoc. The scrutiny heightened as it was discovered that the author, Joy Masoff, did not have the credentials to review text books in the first place. She later told The Washington Post that she found the particular information primarily through internet research.
One would think that a company with such unethical practices is unfit to provide resources for Virginia schools. The state Board of Education, however, showed they thought otherwise by requesting new books from the same Five Ponds Press. Last month, revised copies of the controversial textbooks were approved, but experts say they were still filled with errors.
This sends out a very negative, yet clear message to Virginians: The state is not committed to excellence in education. Although the Board of Education has removed the errors and claimed to have adopted “a more rigorous textbook review process” since the incident, that is not sufficient. It is obvious that a company with such practices as Five Ponds Press is not dedicated to the standards of excellence in knowledge and education that are needed to push Virginia students forward. Educators should not and cannot tolerate this attitude.
The controversy has caught the eye of many of Virginia’s prominent leaders. Earlier this month, state NAACP executive director King Salim Khalfani shared his discussion of the publishing company, stating, “They should be run out of the Commonwealth.” Over the weekend, he submitted a resolution in support of the Richmond Free Press’ campaign against Five Ponds Press and their “unscholarly error-laden textbooks.” Khalfani even went as far as writing a letter to the president of the Board of Education, Eleanor B. Saslaw, asserting that she reconsider and sack them altogether.
Khalfani is encouraging state NAACP chapters and others to protest the textbooks in writing. The state Board of Education’s optimistic approach to Five Ponds Press’ indiscretion is offensive because misleading Virginia’s students is not a subject that requires optimism. The extra level of scrutiny now being taken to ensure accurate textbooks would be completely unnecessary if they would just hire the proper professionals and fire unqualified ones.
If the Board of Education will not connect our students with professionals dedicated to excellence in the classroom, merit and morality, then we will have to do it ourselves. I challenge VCU activists to join the cause.