Good editing requires meticulous attention to detail. Editing for correct grammar, spelling, style, and punctuation is necessary for any publication. Writing teachers stress the importance of re-reading and proofreading written work to ensure a readable, polished finished product. Inarguably, editing is a must.
However, combing through each sentence, each word, and each letter for comma errors and typos is not the final extent of good editing. Fact-checking is an essential component to published writing, whether for a class, a newspaper, or a textbook.
A fact-checking blunder appeared in a Virginia history textbook last week. The author of the fourth-grade textbook falsely wrote that thousands of black soldiers, two battalions to be exact, fought under Stonewall Jackson for the Confederacy during the Civil War. A student in the fourth-grade class took the book home. The student’s mother, a professor at the College of William and Mary, discovered the error. During the time mentioned in the textbook, it was illegal for black slaves to serve in the war.
The discovery of that erroneous line of print drew national media attention. The mistaken information portrayed in the history book became a popular topic, covered by USA Today, the Washington Post, MSNBC, and NPR. The author who penned the false information in the Virginia history book claimed she found the information on black Confederate soldiers on the Internet.
An intentional error? Likely not. Intolerable? Absolutely. Clearly, the Internet is not always a credible source for information. Checking one or two sources, especially when dealing with issues as sensitive as race and war, is not adequate reporting. This case illuminates the need for those who aim to preserve history to relentlessly pursue the facts. Sloppy reporting deprecates not only the author, but the reader as well.
However, reprehensibility does not lie merely with the author. Critics cannot ignore the Virginia Department of Education for distributing the falsehood in an elementary textbook. The blatant oversight creates some uncertainty and unrest for parents and educators alike. What other false information are students learning in classrooms? What errors have gone unnoticed, and accepted as fact by young minds?
The whole ordeal makes the Virginia Department of Education look lackadaisical regarding the proper education of future generations. However, innocuous or egregious the offense may be, presenting false information as fact in an educational setting is unacceptable. History acts as a learning tool, a projection of our futures. The study of history serves to understand where society comes from and how the present is formed. To soil our history with even the slightest factual errors is to pollute our understanding of our past.
Hopefully, this story will inspire all education departments all over the nation to fastidiously examine all educational material disseminated in primary and secondary schools. Not only to save them from negative publicity, but to prevent the future generations from absorbing false notions about the past that shaped our country.
As a publishing entity dedicated to educating students, the importance of fact-checking dominates our editing. Fact-checking was especially important with the recently released Lust, Violence, Religion: Life in Historic Waco, in which the subject matter is adult in nature, being both sensitive and somewhat graphic. Writers and editors must possess a fervent strive for accuracy in order to enlighten readers about the events that molded our society.