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.”

facebookslavesIn the week since Texas parent and doctoral student Roni Dean-Burren posted from her 15-year-old son’s textbook, McGraw-Hill Education has apologized and offered to replace some of the 100,000 textbooks in use in Texas schools or provide a sticker with a more accurate caption.

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:

Reader Comments 0

76 comments
Cere
Cere

Even 'forced migration' is a euphemism.  The truth should be told. Harshly. So as not to be repeated.  Next they will describe the Concentration Camps of the Holocaust as 'staging areas'.  Slavery should be portrayed as the brutal, terrible practice it actually was - and sadly, continues to be.  Kudos to this mom for speaking out when no one else would.

straker
straker

During the 350 years of the slave trade, between nine and twelve million Africans were carried to the Americas.


About 400,000 of these were brought to North America.

irishmafia1457
irishmafia1457

So will the esteemed liberals also make a point that the vast majority of slaves were not sold in North America ?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@irishmafiahigs 

There were colonies in North America that used African slaves aside from the United States, and much earlier: Mexico (from the 1500s with Cortez), Cuba, Puerto Rico, Central America, and all the many slave-holding Caribbean colonies. And they continued up until 1888 (Cuba). A lot of African slaves sold in North America.

irishmafia1457
irishmafia1457

So the mom also wants a fair depiction of the Irish slave trade yes? The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70 percent of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves.”

“Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white.”


Martin writes how at the hands of the British, the Irish population plummeted due to the slave trade of the 17th century.

“During the 1650s, over 100,000 Irish children between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In this decade, 52,000 Irish (mostly women and children) were sold to Barbados and Virginia. Another 30,000 Irish men and women were also transported and sold to the highest bidder. In 1656, [Oliver] Cromwell ordered that 2000 Irish children be taken to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English settlers.”

Martin goes on to explain that for some reason, the Irish slaves are often remembered as ‘indentured servants.’ However, in most cases during the 17th and 18th centuries, they were no more than “human cattle.”

“...the African slave trade was just beginning during this same period,” writes Martin. “It is well recorded that African slaves, not tainted with the stain of the hated Catholic theology and more expensive to purchase, were often treated far better than their Irish counterparts.”

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@irishmafiahigs 

The African slave trade began in the mid-1500s, a century earlier than the sale of the Irish that you note here.  And your numbers of Irish sold here is in the thousands, not the millions as with the Africans.

Who is "Martin"? What is your link to cite as proof? 

Hard to believe that "African slaves were treated better than their Irish counterparts" in Montserrat and the West Indies when the average life expectancy of  African slaves in the Caribbean colonies during this period was 7 years from the time they were sold.

DeaconBlues
DeaconBlues

I think what's lost in this debate is the topic, which is "history."  Every classification of person has been enslaved at one point in history.  African, Jew, Irish, Greek, Russian, French - all have subjected to to the master's whip by an overlord, be that lord Roman, Egyptian, Mongol, Chinese or British.  Or African.  Or American.  Historically speaking, the human race is a brutal and savage one, and a blip in the great perspective of reality concerning the existence of life on this planet. "Life" is not measured by what we have done in the past, but what we can accomplish in the future. A good teacher will show a student what has happened before, with the hope that the student will process what they have learned when making choices in the future where the outcome is undetermined.  McGraw-Hill failed in its objective to factually represent history, in part by guiding students to a conclusion instead of allowing students to derive their own conclusions.

Teacher24/7
Teacher24/7

Very true. When learning about the American Civil War, fifth grade students have lots of questions about slavery and are bewildered that this occurred. I explain to them that slavery is about power and has nearly always been a part of the human existence, citing several instances that you mentioned. I let them know that slavery still exists in many places (and forms) today. My intent is not to belittle what was experienced by African Americans in our country, but to enlighten them on the issue of slavery overall.

Point
Point

After reading many of the comments below, it appears some are still fighting the War of Northern Aggression...

redweather
redweather

@Point Or the War of Southern Stupidity. And no matter what you call it, the south got whacked.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Does the textbook mention that 20 million Africans were kidnapped by their own people, and, if not used as slaves, were sold as slaves?

Such a fuss over one word. They DID work. Would she rather they be called window dressing? Ne'er-do-wells?

PITTFAN
PITTFAN

@STColeman 

Do you have anything real to contribute or do you just like giving out "winner" comments?  You seem to have mentioned lots of winners today.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

To all, I just added a YouTube video to the blog by parent Roni Dean-Burren. Check it out. 

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

Good luck to McGraw-Hill on their short sentence replacement.



According to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates:


"The most comprehensive analysis of shipping records over the course of the slave trade is the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, edited by professors David Eltis and David Richardson. (While the editors are careful to say that all of their figures are estimates, I believe that they are the best estimates that we have, the proverbial “gold standard” in the field of the study of the slave trade.) Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America.

And how many of these 10.7 million Africans were shipped directly to North America? Only about 388,000. That’s right: a tiny percentage."  http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/how-many-slaves-landed-in-the-us/









niecey678
niecey678

@Carlos_Castillo i have read this quote by henry louis gates before. but the point that you are trying to make is that not so many people were shipped to north america. which is not the point he is making.

one of the worst things about the african slave trade is that not even your children could be free. 


i wonder how you would feel if you were one of those 388,000 and their descendants?

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

@niecey678 @Carlos_Castillo Obviously, I'd be resentful of their exploitation.  The Gates quote pretty well speaks for itself.  Accurate numbers are accurate numbers.


Still, there was a domestic slave trade. The phrase, "being sold down the river" refers to descendants of the original slaves, who were sold off from tobacco plantations in places like Virginia down further south to cotton plantations in places like Mississippi.


Thomas Jefferson illustrated the point: 'he had written to one of his plantation managers: “A child raised every 2. years is of more profit then the crop of the best laboring man. in this, as in all other cases, providence has made our duties and our interests coincide perfectly.... [W]ith respect therefore to our women & their children I must pray you to inculcate upon the overseers that it is not their labor, but their increase which is the first consideration with us.” 


The critical turning point in Jefferson’s thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, “I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers.” His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.  http://uswithgretchen.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/90910032/Jefferson.pdf 


In his will, Washington manumitted the slaves that he owned.  Jefferson didn't.  That's why there are far fewer "Jefferson-Jackson Day" Democratic Dinners. these days.



class80olddog
class80olddog

Much ado about nothing.  Sort of like the hash about the term "illegal" - I have been told that a person cannot be illegal - only their actions are.  So you have to say "a Mexican immigrant who entered the country illegally" (why use one word when you can use seven).  Same thing with "failing schools"  - the buildings aren't failing (although I know of no teacher who would say the word school refers to the building - it could be a log with a teacher on one end and a student on the other).

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

What a debacle.   This is why textbooks need to become digital.  Do you know how long it'll take McGraw Hill to reprint a textbook?   So ridiculous.   Amazing no one caught this earlier.   And seriously?   "Forced Migration?"   Why are they afraid to call it what it was?  Slavery!   Why are we not teaching history correctly?   Are Texans still in denial about how the Southern economy got started?

straker
straker

The textbook clearly states these people were brought here by "The Atlantic Slave Trade".


Do those objecting think students are too dumb to understand what this means?

Raja44
Raja44

@bu2 @straker  Uhh, I think calling her "stupid" is a tad strong.  McGraw-Hill, likely at the behest of Texas politicians, was whitewashing it a good bit.

Raja44
Raja44

@OriginalProf @bu2 @straker  I saw some very nice and expensive looking historical markers a few years ago along a Virginia golf course that very seriously talked about how some Civil War Confederate earthworks and bunkers in the area were "constructed by free black men".  Yeah right. 

bu2
bu2

@OriginalProf @bu2 @straker


Charleston is perhaps in a little bit of denial, but there is no denial in the sentence in the textbook.


I did watch a video at their visitor center in the late 80s and was pretty shocked how much in denial Charleston was.  I have been to Charleston since, but not on any official tours, so I can't say how things are done now.


But again, the sentence uses "slave."

bu2
bu2

@Raja44 @OriginalProf @bu2 @straker


Actually, at the end of the war, the Confederates were desperate and offered freedom to slaves to join the army and work.  Some took them up on it.  So if they were built in 1865, it might well be true.

bu2
bu2

@straker

Obviously.  The Mom as well.  Its amazing how many idiots there are who get offended at the slightest thing.


Maureen should understand that saying, "The Atlantic Slave Trade brought slaves...." is poor writing.


The Mom just proved that she is stupid.

bu2
bu2

@Raja44 @bu2 @straker

Stupid is a little strong.  She is obviously very articulate.  Its a silly complaint.


She says there is nothing about African immigrants being slaves when the sentence that upsets her specifically mentions the Atlantic "Slave" trade.  There is no whitewashing.


I suspect she's been involved in textbook wars over there or is at least aware of them and was just looking for something to get offended about.


Fundamentalists have gotten control of the textbook review in Texas.  But their issues are more about anti-American and anti-Christian (as they interpret it) viewpoints in textbooks.  People aren't as obsessed with racial issues as they are here.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@bu2 @straker 

I disagree that this is "the slightest thing." It seems symptomatic of a more widespread tendency to ignore the realities of slavery in this country, and airbrush it out of consideration...at least the consideration of those whose ancestors were never slaves. In just the same way, I noted when I visited Charleston recently that the tour guides uniformly referred to past slaves as "servants." The plantations all had "servant quarters" that clearly were slave cabins.

GB101
GB101

http://www.theroot.com/articles/history/2012/10/how_many_slaves_came_to_america_fact_vs_fiction.html


Whether or not one objects to the euphemism one should be concerned about the factual inaccuracy.  It was not millions.  No where near a million.  Not even half a million.


Also, When my children were in school I noticed that their history book did not use the word "slave."  Slaves were referred to as "enslaved African Americans."  Makes sense to me.  After all, why use just one syllable when nine will do the job?

popcornular
popcornular

@GB101

'After all, why use just one syllable when nine will do the job?'

Same with proper names. 

redweather
redweather

@GB101 It is perhaps also worth noting that by 1860 slaves accounted for approximately 13% of the population, numbering just under four million.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@GB101 Weren't there enslaved "indians" in the US also?  And didn't some wealthy Cherokee own slaves?

GB101
GB101

@redweather @GB101 Yes.  All were in the southern states, of course, where they accounted for maybe 40% of the population.  

GB101
GB101

@redweather @GB101 I just thought of something else too about the text book that is inaccurate, or at least misleading.  The vast majority of the slaves that were  brought to the southern US were brought there before the US was the US, when the states were not states but colonies.

bu2
bu2

@GB101


I'm guessing most of those offended won't look at your link.  They should.  Its a fascinating database on the actual voyages.  And it says there were about 12 million slaves brought across the Atlantic, but only 388,000 to North America.  The bulk were to Brazil and the Carribean.


I don't know if it is in that database, but somewhere there is a site that shows over time each documented slave ship. Almost all the early slave ships in North America went to Boston.  Later they went more to Charleston.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@GB101 

There is a difference between the terms. "Slave" is a dehumanized object, and "enslaved African Americans" implies that human beings have been made slaves, and can become "unenslaved." There's a difference of agency, or possibility of action. (Although technically, they would be enslaved Africans" since they aren't Americans yet.)

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@GB101 @redweather 

Some of the Northern states, such as New York, also had slaves up until the early 1800s, as well as the Border states.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@GB101 

Well, it is accurate when you remember that "America" is not just the United States but more accurately North and South America: "the Americas." And remember that slaves didn't just stay in one place, but were sold and resold frequently to whoever their owners could find to purchase them, often in the Caribbean colonies as well as the Southern states. Also, when slaves first arrived after the Middle Passage, the slave-ships very often would first dock in the nearest Caribbean colony they could, and then sail from colony to colony and up the coast selling slaves.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Wascatlady @GB101 

Some, but most of the "Indians" were driven off their lands and forced to migrate to distant, land-poor "reservations." Some of the Southern Seminoles assisted runaway slaves, while others did hold African-American slaves to work for them.

MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

@GB101 

The hilarity of this nonsense is the FACT that the African slaves were referred to as "African-American."  That's purely the liberal PC version.  It's total BS, however, as the "African-Americans" were not "Americans" at that time, but they were "African" as they still wish to be known as.  Today's "African-American" shows that they consider themselves as Africans FIRST, then (perhaps) "American."

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@OriginalProf @Wascatlady @GB101 I was thinking of before The Removal, among the Cherokee.  It seems like I remember (but I could be wrong) that Chief Vann (whose house is preserved and open for visits) near Chatsworth was one of the slaveholders.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@MichaelHannigan @GB101 

You're right about the slaves still considering themselves as "African," or more precisely the people they came from such as the Ibo. But that hyphen in today's term "African-American" does mean something, just as "Irish-American" does for those whose ancestors came from Ireland.  And on many AJC blogs I have seen you refer to yourself as "Irish-American."