My comments on Five Ponds Press revised drafts

In 2010, historians found dozens of errors in two textbooks published by Five Ponds Press and being used in Virginia public schools.

Five Ponds has drafted new editions of the offending texts: Our Virginia: Past and Present (for grade 4) and Our America: To 1865 (grades 5 and 6).

Not only has the press hired some historians as consultants this time, but review copies have been put on display at eight universities around the state, including Mason. I reviewed these drafts, and the new editions seem to have fewer gross errors than the first editions. They do have some odd emphases–Andrew Jackson and his rivals do not appear in the US history text–but these are more attributable to the Virginia Standards of Learning than to decisions by the text authors.

I did assemble the following list of errors, which I have sent to the Virginia Department of Education. The department is accepting comments through August 31

Errata in Five Ponds Press drafts texts, 2011

OUR AMERICA TO 1865.

29. Epigraph: “Honor the sacred. Honor the Earth, our Mother. Honor the Elders. Honor all with whom we share the Earth:- Four-leggeds, two-leggeds, winged ones, Swimmers, crawlers, plant and rock people. Walk in balance and beauty. -Native American Elder” Who is this elder? When was this said? The text should avoid quotations of unknown provenance.

32. “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, … We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children –An American Indian Proverb” Another doubtful attribution. In any case, its lack of specificity undercuts the claim on the same page that “America’s first people were and still are very diverse groups.”

49. Map of Europe in 15th century shows 21st century borders. It should be replaced with a map of Europe in a particular year. The “early exploration routes” arrow is confusing, since it ignores northern routes, mentioned on p. 51

55. Seems to imply that French and English settlers brought diseases but that Spanish settlers did not. (The next page makes clear that the Spanish brought disease as well.)

55, 68. Implies that Europeans learned to use fish as fertilizer from Indians. This is doubtful; see Lynn Ceci, “Squanto and the Pilgrims.” Society 27, no. 4 (May 1990): 40-44.

58. John Cabot sailed in ships, not boats.

66. Map of 17th century English colonies shows 19th century boundaries. (No border between Virginia and West Virginia)

68. Map has “New Netherlands” for “New Netherland”

71. “New Netherlands” for “New Netherland”

72. Map of early southern colonies shows 21st century borders

82. 18c map with 21c borders.

82. Hats were made from beaver fur, not beaver skin

95. Franklin is misquoted. Correct quotation: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” [Benjamin Franklin, William Temple Franklin, William Duane, Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin, Volume 1, 127]

95. Jefferson quotation is spurious. http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/when-governments-fear-people-there-libertyquotation

102. Painting shows Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge. Edward G. Lengel, George Washington: America’s Founder, in Myth and Memory, 83-89, shows that there is no credible evidence for this event.

103. Britian for Britain

108. Abrupt shift to first person: “We were still trying to shake ourselves free from a powerful king.” Who are we?

118. War of 1812: “Americans fought bravely—from the Great Lakes to New Orleans—struggling against the more powerful British forces.” I’m not sure of the basis of this claim; Americans often fled battle even when they outnumbered the British. See Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812.

121. Question 4. “How did all the states participate in the writing of the Constitution?” Rhode Island did not participate.

121. Question 8. Asks about “two Virginia documents” that influenced the Bill of Rights. I’m not sure of the reference here. Does the book consider the Declaration of Independence a “Virginia document”? Or is this a reference to the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, not mentioned in the text?

126. Picture is captioned “The Port of New Orleans in 1803,” but it is clearly from mid-19th century.

127. Language distinguishes between “Indians” and “Americans.” Does the text wish to suggest that the Indians were not Americans?

130. What Indian nations are supposed to be represented in this picture?

130. Map shows “Canada” 1819-1848. “British North America” is a better term; until 1867 “Canada” referred mainly to today’s Ontario and Quebec

132. Irish immigration began well before the famine.

133. I’m not sure why the “beautiful and charming female” of Gast’s painting is identified as “Destiny.” Given the title of “American Progress,” most scholars have identiied her as America or Progress.

134. Presents a heroic account of Whitney’s cotton gin, discredited by Angela Lakwete, Inventing the Cotton Gin: Machine and Myth in Antebellum America (2003)

138. Antebellum suffrage movement is illustrated with 1912 photograph.

144. I don’t understand the picking-at-scab metaphor. What is the wound? What is the scab? Is the text suggesting that slavery was a wound that would have healed had it been left alone?

144. Doubtful contrast between New York City and southern plantations. Pennsylvania and Virginia weren’t that different. See Edward L. Ayers, Anne S. Rubin, The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War.

140, 146. Maps of slavery show West Virginia and Virginia as separate states.

161. Placing “Goddard Space Center” (headquartered in Maryland) in Virginia is a bit confusing. “Wallops Flight Facility” would be better.

162. “All photos and illustrations listed below are copyrighted by the respective providers.” This is clearly false; e.g., the list includes 19th century works held by the Library of Congress.

162. “United States Navel Academy”

R9. President must be a natural born citizen, not “born in the U.S.” The Naturalization Act of 1790 established that “”The children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond sea, or outside the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural-born citizens of the United States.” http://rs6.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=001/llsl001.db&recNum=227

R27. Map lacks South Sudan

OUR VIRGINIA

95. Says “everyone” would count in appportionment, except slaves. Indians not taxed didn’t count at all.

98. “The summer of 1787 was very hot.” Not really. See David O. Stewart, The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution, 82.

99. Says of War of 1812, “in the end, America was victorious once more.” The Treaty of Ghent did not achieve American war aims, so calling America “victorious” may be misleading.

105. Depicts Virginia/West Virginia border for antebellum period.

123. Depicts a 20th-century Medal of Honor for a Civil War recipient.

142. Claims Richmond was the first US city with electric streetcars. Daft’s system in Baltimore preceded it. See Robert C. Post, Urban Mass Transit: The Life Story of a Technology (Johns Hopkins University Press), 39-41.

161. Placing “Goddard Space Center” (headquartered in Maryland) in Virginia is a bit confusing. “Wallops Flight Facility” would be better.

162. “All photos and illustrations listed below are copyrighted by the respective providers.” This is clearly false; e.g., the list includes 19th century works held by the Library of Congress.

R9. President must be a natural born citizen, not “born in the U.S.” The Naturalization Act of 1790 established that “”The children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond sea, or outside the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural-born citizens of the United States.” http://rs6.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=001/llsl001.db&recNum=227

R27. Map lacks South Sudan

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About Zachary Schrag
Zachary M. Schrag is a professor of history at George Mason University. The views expressed here are my own and may not reflect those of George Mason University.

2 Responses to My comments on Five Ponds Press revised drafts

  1. Frank Herron says:

    Nicely done.
    I don’t have access to either text. How was the Franklin quote presented in the text (No. 95 in “Our America”?
    Thanks!
    Frank Herron

    • Zachary Schrag says:

      In the draft it reads, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” Close, but not right.

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