What could possibly go wrong?

Now, in the realm of local politics, I happen to like our local Delegate, David Englin. As a liberal Democrat, he’s not my ideal choice, me being a conservative Republican and all, but I think his office is run well, he is communicative, and pretty much the best I could hope for being not of my political stripes.

Every question I ask (and no, I am not an asshole) gets a considered response that answers my question.

I tend to disagree more than agree with his votes, but now, he’s introduced a bill that I am not a big fan of.

I’ll explain.

Last year, a number of parents complained when they read their children’s text book on state history. The book, “Our Virginia: Past and Present”, alleged that blacks fought for the Confederacy. Something I remember being taught in ultra liberal Shaker Heights.

As far as I can tell, the book claims that “thousands” of blacks fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy, and some were even promoted under Stonewall Jackson’s leadership.

Scholars doubt that “thousands” of blacks fought for the Confederacy, and other scholars doubt that blacks were promoted. Being no Civil War scholar, I must admit that I agree that it’s doubtful Confederate black soldiers were promoted, but  it’s not outside the realm of possibility that many blacks fought for the Confederacy, be they forcibly or voluntarily serving. It’s much likelier blacks fought for the north. I’m northern because God loves a winner and we won (sorry southerners). Others disagree.

So what happened? This book somehow got through the approval process. Now people are offended that kids might learn that some black soldiers forcibly (or by choice, however doubtful) fought for the Confederacy? I recall learning the same thing, though, I learned more blacks fought for the North and not all Southern blacks fought by choice.

I’m not a Civil War scholar, and what I learned may not jive with the majority of Civil War historians, but I still realize slavery was wrong, and the Civil War wasn’t about states’ rights, as much as I support the concept.

According to The Virginia Gazzette, Williamsburg-James City County Schools uses the book in question and it was:

…selected through the division’s standard textbook approval procedure. A committee of staff and community members recommended the text, and the public had the opportunity to inspect the textbook. Finally, the book was approved by the School Board.

Alright. So, the Virginia Board of Education, school boards, parents, and the public dropped the ball. The publisher dropped the ball. The author dropped the ball. So it’s the publisher’s fault alone, right?

What do Delegate Englin and Councilman Krupicka propose we do to remedy the situation? According to the Washington Post:

To receive state certification under the proposed bill, publishers would be forced to pledge, and later prove, that their books are reviewed by subject-area specialists whose expertise would be approved by the Board of Education. Publishers would also assume responsibility for correcting mistakes subsequently discovered by the board.

The Education Department has acknowledged flaws in the textbook approval process, saying that it is hamstrung in part by a lack of resources. By shifting the onus to publishers, Englin hopes to reduce the number of errors in textbooks without using public dollars to hire a team of subject-area experts.

I cherry picked these two quotes from the article to illustrate a few points and ask a few questions.

  1. Why can’t Virginia, given its size, have its best teachers, publicly paid college professors, and scholarly volunteers review potential text books? Surely, publishers would be willing to lend or give 100 copies of a textbook to a big state that could lead to probably 100,000+ copies sold.
  2. If publishers were required to get outside factual verification of every sentence in their textbooks, would people do it for them for free?
  3. If people are less likely to volunteer for a for-profit company rather than their home state, would the cost of outside fact-checking be passed along to all consumers of the text book? Or just states that require it?
  4. Some publishers might not want their textbook costs to go up for states that don’t have government mandated outsider fact-checking and fines for errors. Would they be less likely to offer their texts for consideration in Virginia, even if their books might be by better scholars than others?
  5. Since publishers would most certainly pass along the costs of mandated outsider fact checking and insuring themselves against potential fines, would higher costs for textbooks leave Virginia with less money for education? Teacher salaries? School activities?
  6. Would less money for education, because of this bill, require more money to be allocated from other programs?
  7. Would supporters of that other program refrain from complaining about the cuts, for the greater good?
  8. Do you think the state would allow that to happen, cutting that other program, or would they restore it and raise taxes?

I take it you see my thought process, whether or not you agree with my conclusion that the bill is a bad idea.

We have nearly 40 public colleges in Virginia, and I am sure we can get the texts vetted without alienating publishers or raising the cost of textbooks.

With such a well intentioned idea my Delegate proposes, what could possibly go wrong?

If this post didn’t sit well with you, click here, it’s the least I can offer.

Update: What’s next? Deleting words that certain groups find offensive from classic literature?

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