Unpublished ‘Black Lives Matter’ Book Stirs Controversy

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — August 28, 2015 3 min read
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A book for young people that aims to put the “Black Lives Matter” movement in historical context is making waves long before its official release.

ABDO Publishing is releasing the book in 2016 as part of a “Special Reports” series that also includes books about ISIS, transgender issues, and the Ebola outbreak. Here’s how the publishing company describes the series:

Special Reports explores the challenging events and contentious issues that fill the headlines, with compelling text and well-chosen images. Providing balanced coverage, as well as background information and context, the books in this series help readers develop an essential understanding of current events and encourage them to form their own opinions.

Though “Black Lives Matter” is hardly the only contentious topic on that list, the book was singled out in an episode of “Fox and Friends,” the TV show, last weekend.

Radio personality and author Larry Elder denounced the book in a segment called “New Black Lives Matter Textbook Is Aimed at 6th Grade Students.” Elder said the book teaches that black people are victims and that white people should feel guilty, and that it would indoctrinate children in this belief. An icon in the bottom corner of the screen during the segment reads “Trouble With Schools.”

A post on The Feminist Wire earlier this month had said that teachers and parents would find the book to be an “invaluable resource.

Macalester College Professor Duchess Harris said she and co-author Sue Bradford Edwards, a Missouri-based journalist, hoped to provide information for young people looking to understand current events and African-American history.

Co-author Harris said that Elder criticized the book without having read it. She sent Education Week a draft copy. “If you read it and still don’t like it, that’s fair.”

Harris, an American studies professor, said the content is not meant as “indoctrination or propaganda.” “It’s, these are current events and this is what that means,” she said.

ABDO is an educational publisher that sells books to schools and school libraries, and the book is advertised as being aligned to the Common Core Standards and correlated to state standards. But ABDO Publishing editor-in-chief Paul Abdo told online news site Fusion that the book is not intended to be a textbook.

The book, which consists of about 100 pages long of larger-print text, starts with a description of the death of Michael Brown, the legal aftermath, and the reaction in Missouri and across the country.

It then gives a brief history, “Black Lives in America,” that includes the Three-fifths compromise (which declared that slaves counted as Three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and representation), the Civil War, the development of Jim Crow laws, the role of African-American units in World War II, the Civil Rights movement, and residential segregation.

It walks readers through other recent events, such as the 2009 shooting death of Oscar Grant at the hands of a police officer in Oakland, Calif., including their legal and social aftermaths.

The book does explicitly say that African-American citizens have often received harsher treatment by law enforcement than white citizens. It cites statistics that bolster that claim, including, for instance, that in Ferguson African Americans are far more likely to be pulled over for minor traffic violations than white citizens, and that 42 percent of police SWAT team missions have involved African Americans, who make up 13 percent of the population.

Harris said that many of her students have never studied African-American history before college and are wary about talking about race or charged current events in class. She said she hoped the book would fill a gap.

“My colleagues in the math department, for instance, don’t get students who have never encountered algebra or calculus,” Harris said. “But what I get are students whose high school teachers have not dealt with contemporary race relations.”

Harris discussed the book on a local PBS station:

Harris and Edwards are at work on another book aimed at young people, focused on African-American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during segregation.

The book is not the first resource aimed at helping teachers address Michael Brown’s death or think about how to teach controversial current events.

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