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A mom challenges textbook description of slaves as 'workers' and wins

UPDATE: I added a video Wednesday morning in which the parent provides a detailed look at the book and what she considers misleading language and representations.

A Texas mother created a social media tidal wave with her Facebook posting of a high school geography book caption that described Africans brought against their will to labor on American plantations as "workers."

Under the heading “Patterns of Immigration,” the world geography book states: “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.”

In its public statement , McGraw-Hill Education said:

This week, we became aware of a concern regarding a caption reference to slavery on a map in one of our world geography programs. This program addresses slavery in the world in several lessons and meets the learning objectives of the course. However, 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.

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 print run.

McGraw-Hill Education is committed to developing the highest quality educational materials and upholding the academic integrity of our products. We value the insight the public brings to discussions of our content.

Not everyone was satisfied with how the textbook publisher planned to correct the mischaracterization. Among the Facebook responses to the plan:

•"Forced migration," that's putting it rather lightly McGraw-Hill. If you are going to educate on ones history especially that of the African and the atrocities of slavery be honest. The world will be a better place when you do.

• Shameful! This isn't a misprint. This isn't an inaccuracy. This is a slap in the face of every descendant of African slaves. The only thing that you could do to salvage your reputation would be to recall these books and provide corrected copies.

•Hey McGraw-Hill, just wondering when you're going to refer to the Jews that were shipped from Germany and other parts of Europe as guest workers?

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network , a state school board watchdog group, issued a statement:

First of all, we are encouraged that the publisher is correcting this passage downplaying the history of slavery in the United States. But it’s no accident that this happened in Texas. We have a textbook adoption process that’s so politicized and so flawed that it’s become almost a punch line for comedians. The truth is that too many elected officials who oversee that process are less interested in accurate, fact-based textbooks than they are in promoting their own political views in our kids’ classrooms. So when they review these textbooks, they don’t even recognize distortions that mislead students and that drive scholars nuts.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this story is how long the "worker" description went unnoticed. Under Texas rules, textbooks are posted online for public review and apparently this material was up for a year without anyone flagging it.

I often wondered if anyone looks at the curriculum materials posted by states for public review and comment. I think we have our answer.

Here is the mom herself explaining her concerns:

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.