McGraw-Hill Education, one of the largest textbook publishers in the United States, is being criticized this week for referring to slaves brought to America during the Atlantic Slave Trade as “workers” in its 2016 edition of “World Geography.”
Roni Dean-Burren, a 38-year-old mother from Pearland, Texas posted a screenshot of a photo from her ninth-grade son’s textbook on Facebook last Wednesday, which went viral.
The caption next to a map of the United States read: “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.”
David Levin, CEO of McGraw-Hill Education, responded on Monday to the controversy in a note to the company’s employees.
“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. These changes will be reflected in the digital version of the program immediately and will be included in the program’s next run,” Levin said.
Dean-Burren and many other commentators are unsatisfied with the company’s effort. She said that the offer to change the content in the next print run is an inadequate offer for recompense because the textbooks will sit in Texas classrooms for eight to 10 years.
In the past Texas has been accused of whitewashing its textbooks to coincide with Conservative-Republican political agendas. As a result the state’s Texas Textbook Adoption policies have been the target of public ridicule.
Because of the size of its market, and subsequently its massive influence in the textbook industry on a national level, many parents are concerned about the historical information and from which point of view their children may be learning it.
Andre Hayes, a fourth-year African-American studies student from Winston-Salem, N.C. shares a similar opinion as the Texan mother, expressing that “the term ‘worker’ implies not only that they received pay, but it also implies that the Africans that were brought over wanted to come here.”
Darius J. Young, assistant professor in the history department explained that the misrepresentation of black people in the textbook helps to shape white perception in a digestible way.
“It allows them to cope more so than helping us,” Young said.“America will have to confront its own history, and they don’t like to do that.”
Young added that America allows candid talk about the Jewish holocaust because it’s not responsible for that. But when you start talking about America and the Black Holocaust, no one has anything to say.
The textbook publisher is offering customers “who are currently using the book a choice of either a sticker to cover and replace the caption or a new, corrected, printed copy of the book,” according to its Facebook page.
McGraw-Hill is also offering supplemental material to schools on cultural competency. These options are available upon the school district’s request.
Dean-Burren said that the company should have initiated the book swap.
“They shouldn’t have to request it. They should send a team down to every school that has this book, package up the bad ones, bring new good ones,” Dean-Burren told HuffPost Live.
The textbooks still remains in Texas classrooms.