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McGraw-Hill CEO Apologizes for Textbook 'Mistake' on Slavery

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By Sheryl Estrada


The caption regarding slavery from the “Patterns of Immigration” section of McGraw-Hill Education’s “World Geography.”

A Texas mother and educator used the force of social media to hold publishing giant McGraw-Hill Education accountable for misrepresentingslavery.

Roni Dean-Burren of Pearland, Texas, south of Houston, received a text message from her 15-year-old son, Coby, while he was at school. The ninth grader at Pearland High School sent a photo of a caption from the “Patterns of Immigration” section of his “World Geography” that troubled him:

“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.”

Not only are African slaves referred to “workers,” but also the title of the section implies that they were immigrants instead of having been captured, enslaved and held against their will.

“We was real hard workers wasn’t we,” Coby sent in a follow-up text.

Last week, Dean-Burren posted the photo her son sent then followed up with a onFacebook video discussing the issue, which garnered more than 1,000,000 views.

The publishing company almost immediately responded to the public outrage on social media.

On Friday, a statement was posted on McGraw-Hill Education’s Facebook page:

We 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.

Changes have been made in the digital version, and the next print run of the textbook will reflect the changes.

David Levin, a British businessman, is president and CEO of McGraw-Hill Education. He sent a memo to employees with the subject line “Slavery, Geography and an Apology”:

In life and business mistakes are made. The first step in correcting them is acknowledging them. We made a mistake Slavery was a horrible part of American history. And while the book and program from which it is drawn do describe the origins of the Atlantic Slave Trade, the forcible capture and enslavement of Africans, and the millions of lives lost, we need to do more to make sure that it is depicted accurately and fully in all instances. We are deeply sorry that the caption was written this way.

Levin wrote the textbook was “reviewed by many people inside and outside the company, and was made available for public review” and that “no one raised concerns about the caption.” He also said, “something went wrong and we must and will do better,” which will include paying more attention to who reviews the material.

We have already committed to increase our list of reviewers to reflect greater diversity.

Pearland Independent School District said in a statement that until an update has been made to the McGraw-Hill’s “World Geography” textbook, high school social studies teachers will use different resources to teach about that content.

According to ABC 13 Eyewitness News, in response to the publishing company’s apology Dean-Burren wrote on Facebook, “This is change people!!! This is why your voices matter!!! You did this!!!! And to my sweet boy, my only son….my man man Coby Burren…look at your power son!!! #blackboysmatter #blacklivesmatter

Dean-Burren’s use of social media created public pressure that prompted the company and CEO to respond. Sharing videos on Facebook or YouTube of instances such as the lack of diversity in textbook reviewers, the forceful arrest of a teen by police or a principal hurling racial insults at graduation has become a way to counter injustice.

Although attention has been brought to this particular McGraw-Hill Education textbook, the tweaking of history has already been approved in Texas.

Social Studies Curriculum Gets Conservative Slant

Each year, Texas buys 48 million textbooks. In 2010, the Texas Board of Education, a 15-member elected panel dominated by Republicans, approved a revised social studies curriculum for 7th and 8th grades as well as high school students, which went into effect in August. Textbooks published by certain companies, including McGraw-Hill, are said to reflect a more conservative view of U.S. history.

Pat Hardy, a Republican board member, described slavery as a “side issue to the Civil War” in 2010. “There would be those who would say the reason for the Civil War was over slavery,” he said. “No. It was over states’ rights.”

The board wanted students to learn that the Civil War was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery.”

The Washington Post reported in September:

“Students in Texas are required to read thespeechJefferson Davis gave when he was inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America, an address that does not mention slavery. But students are not required to read a famousspeechby Alexander Stephens, Davis’s vice president, in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and ‘the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.'”

The board has also made other controversial changes in regards to climate change and religious liberty.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt pulled its U.S. government title in November as “the publisher declined to make changes in its government textbook that would addgreater coverage of Judeo-Christian influence including Moses on America’s founding fathers.”

At the Texas State Board of Education’s public hearings on social studies standards on May 19, 2010, many voiced their opposition to changes, but they were ultimately ignored.

View brief video of public hearing:

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