Don’t blame publishers for white washing history books, blame politicians
While reading about immigration in his freshman history book, Houston high school student Cody Burren noticed an incredibly misleading blurb. A caption referred to the African slaves who were forced into the United States as “workers.” As a black student who had already been educated on the nation’s true history, Cody knew the euphemism was unacceptably deceptive.
The brand new McGraw-Hill textbook specifically declared that, “The Atlantic slave trade between the 1500s and the 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations,” which made it seem as though Africans willingly came to the U.S. in order to earn a living.
What a convenient white-washed narrative for the country’s racists!
Burren knew the book was sugarcoating a dark time in the U.S., so he immediately sent his mom Roni Dean-Burren a picture of the questionable caption along with an understandably sarcastic comment: “We was real hard workers wasn’t we?”
Dean-Burren called out McGraw-Hill in a Facebook video that quickly went viral with nearly two million views. The publisher quickly apologized and promised to correct the error in the digital version of the book. But what most people aren’t aware of is that this incident wasn’t an accident, and targeting the publisher is just misdirecting anger. The real problem is the mostly Republican Texas School Board and its orchestrated effort to erase any portion of the country’s history that they feel uncomfortable with.
In November of 2014, the Texas State Board of Education approved new history books for five million students throughout the country. The board had drafted new standards for the books back in 2010 with many liberal activists objecting to how the new guidelines emphasized religion and conservative figures, while simultaneously downplaying civil rights leaders and historical black figures like Thurgood Marshall. Keep in mind that this was the same school board that unsuccessfully attempted to rid Charles Darwin from science books in 2009.
The Atlantic perfectly summarized how the tumultuous and divisive debates over social studies standards began:
“The problems with this textbook adoption process began in 2010, when the education board passed new history standards that require students to ‘identify the individuals whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding documents, including those of Moses,’ and establish how ‘biblical law’ was a major influence on America’s founding.”
After all was said and done, the school board unfortunately got its way.
As the Houston Press put it, the changes to the new social studies books were “nuts.” To say that the board is guilty of erasure would be a gross understatement. For instance, key components of the Civil Rights era weren’t mentioned at all, including the KKK or the Jim Crow laws that led to racial segregation. Any student reading the book would assume that black and white individuals in the country got along just fine after the Civil War.
As always, southern conservatives love to pretend as though the Civil War had little to do with slavery, and that very inaccurate perspective is featured dominantly in the texts. During the heated debates over what would make it in the books, Republican board member Pat Hardy said that slavery was “a side issue to the Civil War.” Clowns like Hardy claim the Civil War was over property rights, but they can never truthfully answer what the Confederates considered property. Maybe it’s because the property they were fighting for was the slaves.
Cody is likely to come across more egregious examples of how McGraw-Hill glossed over the racial history of the U.S., or how they changed the narrative of it. Rewriting the past and erasing the harshest facts about the country’s history not only minimizes the devastating experiences of those who had been disenfranchised, it also prevents future generations from avoiding the same mistakes.
Republicans always accuse educators of indoctrinating the youth with liberal propaganda, but that is exactly what the Texas School Board is successfully doing.