McGraw-Hill Admits Error in Social-Studies Text Describing Enslaved Africans in America as “Workers”

Hats off to Pearland parent Roni Dean-Burren for publicizing ?via Facebook video an egregious misstatement in her son’s geography text, which described Africans enslaved and transported by force to America as just “workers.” The errant text, from the McGraw-Hill publishing conglomerate, was approved last year by the State Board of Education along with many others.

To McGraw-Hill’s credit, the publisher has acknowledged the problem and announced corrective action. On Facebook McGraw-Hill 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.

slaveryThe McGraw-Hill text may have been vetted for conformity to Texas standards, but those standards themselves leave much to be desired, especially around the history of slavery. For example, the curriculum guidelines imply slavery was not the foremost issue in our nation’s Civil War, even though the war was triggered by a dispute over the extension of slavery to new territories. A 2011 study by the conservative Fordham Institute said the social-studies standards were heavily politicized and all but ignored slavery and segregation. The McGraw-Hill mischaracterization of slaves as “workers” is regrettably consistent with the Texas social-studies curriculum document that the Fordham scholars found “distorts or suppresses” unsavory aspects of our nation’s history.

The saving grace for Texas students is that their classroom teachers in social studies are able to supplement approved textbooks with additional, teacher-selected resources and instruction that meet higher standards of fidelity to the historical record.