Student Well-Being

Can Textbook Errors Enhance Learning?

By Caroline Cournoyer — January 10, 2011 1 min read
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After the Washington Post exposed dozens of errors in Virginia history textbooks, several districts removed them from schools to prevent the impairment of learning. But Post ed columnist Jay Mathews thinks the mistakes would actually enhance learning.

“We might even encourage publishers to salt their volumes intentionally with a few mistakes. (Don’t be horrified. Each could be identified in the teacher’s guide.)” Then the students’ task could be to identify the factual and conceptual errors, which “would motivate careful student reading and lively discussion,” wrote Mathews on his blog.

Mathews argues that finding the faults in required reading would not only make learning history more fun for students but also develop their critical thinking skills, which he calls “one of this era’s most fashionable pedagogical phrases.”

The textbooks’ inaccuracies ranged from incorrectly identifying the year the U.S. entered WWI to the inclusion of the largely discredited claim that thousands of African Americans fought for the South in the Civil War, which Teaching Now covered back in October.

After the Post story ran, five historians were ordered to review Five Ponds Press textbooks, including “Our Virginia: Past and Present,” which was pulled from Fairfax and Loudoun county schools.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.