Some of you may be familiar with the controversy surrounding the Virginia elementary school textbook, Our Virginia: Past and Present. This is the textbook that claimed falsely that thousands of African-Americans fought in the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Over at the blog of the Historical Society, Randall Stephens writes about the findings of the “Report on the Review of Virginia’s Textbook Adoption Process…” If you don’t want to read the entire report, Stephens breaks it down for us.
Here is just one part of the report, a section critiquing the textbook’s coverage of colonial literacy:
“Very few people in colonial America could read . . .” This is a myth. The overwhelming majority of white colonists were literate. In New England, literacy rates were higher than elsewhere because there were more schools and there was an emphasis on learning to read the Bible, but even in Virginia and other Southern colonies, almost all white men and even most white women could read in the eighteenth century. Percentages change over time, always growing larger, but even in the seventeenth century, about 60% of men in Virginia could read and about a quarter of the women. Figures are higher for the northern colonies. At no time in American history did “very few people” know how to read (unless one is talking about African Americans or Native Americans).