A new fourth-grade Virginia history textbook was found to contain the dubious assertion that battalions of African-American soldiers fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The textbook’s author, who has written other textbooks and children’s books like Oh Yuck!: The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty, says she found the information in question on the Internet. Can just anyone write a school history textbook?
Sort of. Anyone can write and publish a textbook, but before it gets handed out to public-school students, the book’s content would have to be approved by several review committees. As long as the textbook is deemed to meet state-specified guidelines and cover the subject matter with accuracy and coherence, the author’s pedigree can be of secondary importance. Textbook publishing is typically a collective endeavor, anyway. Publishers often contract with a handful of freelancers who have knowledge about specific subject areas. There’s no particular qualification required for these freelancers: Anyone with a Ph.D. in a relevant field might be acceptable, for example, but so would a high-school teacher with a decent writing sample. In general, the publisher hires a more distinguished scholar as the main editor, who oversees the project and has final say over the content.