Social Studies

History Textbook Referring to Slaves as ‘Workers’ Will Get an Update

By Liana Loewus — October 05, 2015 1 min read
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The Atlantic slave trade brought millions of workers...notice the nuanced language there. Workers implies... Posted by Roni Dean-Burren on Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Texas mother garnered attention on Facebook last week for posting a picture of her son’s history textbook.

A caption in the McGraw-Hill Education book said that the Atlantic slave trade “brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” Roni Dean-Burren had received a text message with a photo of the page from her 9th grade son. “We was real hard workers wasn’t we,” he wrote to his mother.

Dean-Burren, a former high school English teacher, followed up with a video post explaining that the book also refers to African slaves as “immigrants,” implying that their movement was voluntary. She suggests that the book is part of a larger problem with the textbook approval process in Texas.

McGraw-Hill responded a day later on Facebook.

[W]e conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves. 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.

The publisher said it will update the digital version immediately and change the print version on its next run.

However, as Dean-Burren pointed out to The Washington Post, the book in question had a copyright date of 2016, and the next print version could be a decade away.

The Texas state board adopted new social studies last year for the first time since 2002. That approval was rife with controversy. Left-leaning groups said some books exaggerated the influence of religion on the founding of the United States. Right-leaning groups said some books were too pro-Islam. The Republican-controlled board approved nearly all of the books being considered.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.