School Books to Get Rewrite after Outcry over Slavery Whitewash

Wednesday, October 07, 2015
Controversial passage in school textbook (photo: Roni Dean-Burren’s Facebook page)

A textbook that describes slaves as “workers from Africa” will be rewritten after a Texas mother drew attention to its whitewashing of slavery.


Roni Dean-Burren spoke out after reading passages such as this one contained in the McGraw-Hill “World Geography” textbook used by her son: “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”


Calling slaves “workers” alarmed Dean-Burren, a former English teacher now working on her Ph.D., because it suggested that they were compensated for their labor. The passage was contained in a section called “Patterns of Immigration,” which implied the slaves weren’t forced against their will to come to the U.S.


Dean-Burren took to Facebook to air her concerns and a video made after the original post garnered 1.4 million views by Sunday, according to CNN.


In announcing it would edit and reissue its book, McGraw-Hill said, “We believe we can do better … To communicate these facts more clearly, we will update this caption to describe the arrival of African slaves in the U.S. as a forced migration and emphasize that their work was done as slave labor.”


Unfortunately, the book is already in the hands of school districts. “Thanks for the gesture, but that doesn’t help the school districts that can’t afford to purchase new textbooks!” one comment on McGraw-Hill’s Facebook post read, according to CNN. “Kids will continue to read the same incorrect & inconsiderate information for probably the next 5-10 years! There must be a better way!”


Texas authorities have an outsized effect on what goes into U.S. textbooks. Publishers defer to Texas’ wishes because their statewide market is huge. That has resulted in conservatives pushing their ideas into the books that are used nationwide. Other examples include glossing over climate change; misstating the separate roles of church and state; ignoring problems with a free enterprise system and the U.S. government’s role in the economy; a lack of attention to Native American history; and acceptance of “states’ rights” arguments.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Textbook Called Slaves ‘Workers’ and ‘Immigrants’ (by Casey Quinlan, ThinkProgress)

McGraw-Hill to Rewrite Textbook after Mom’s Complaint (by Melonyce McAfee, CNN)

Texas Approves Controversial School Textbooks Still Laced with Ideologically-Driven Inaccuracies (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Racist Views of Blacks and Jews Taught in Texas Public School Bible Classes (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

California Senate Opposes Texas History Textbook Changes (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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