Offensive Early-Literacy Books Anger Minneapolis Teachers, Are Pulled

By Liana Loewus — September 18, 2015 2 min read
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At a training session this summer, Minneapolis teachers opened the district’s new K-2 early-reader books to find them teeming with racial, gender, and cultural stereotypes.

For instance, the book “Lazy Lucy” had a young black girl on the cover. “Nieko, the Hunting Girl” pictured an American Indian girl and her father who hunt with bows and arrows and live in a cave.

Another book stated, “Most people are aware that Kenyans are able to run very fast.” And yet another told of a woman who cooked her husband’s breakfast, packed his lunch, and cleaned each room of their home while he was at work. “She was always in a good mood,” the book said.

Freelance blogger Sarah Lahm, who uncovered the story, called the books “shockingly dated, racist, and problematic.” Several teachers contacted her with complaints about the training and snapshots of the books, which were published by Salt Lake City-based Reading Horizons.

The interim superintendent in Minneapolis, Michael Goar, has since apologized for the books in a Facebook post. “Due to staffing shifts and the desire to get a program in place for the new school year, the books were not comprehensively vetted. We now know this was a mistake. We regret that this happened. We will do better,” he wrote. “It is not acceptable that in 2015 reading materials for children would contain language and imagery that perpetuate stereotypes that are hurtful and insulting.”

The district, which paid $1.2 million for the reading program, collected the books before students ever saw them. The district is apparently working with Reading Horizons to revise the books.

On its website, Reading Horizons claims to be in use “in over 10,000 schools across the United States.” The books referred to here have been in use in other districts since 2012, when they were published.

As Lahm pointed out on her blog, the publisher counts “faith” as one of its core values. A page that is no longer easily searchable on the Reading Horizons website (but still available here) says: “We believe in a higher purpose to life. We seek to do His will and to achieve balance in our lives.”

A curriculum coordinator for Reading Horizons told the Star Tribune that the company’s values are not instilled in its materials.

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