Mom’s Complaint Pushes McGraw-Hill to Revise Passage on Slavery


Textbook publisher McGraw-Hill has agreed to rewrite a section of one of its geography textbooks because of a complaint from a Houston-area mother.

Roni Dean-Burren let her frustration be known via Facebook last week after she read a passage in her son’s “World Geography” textbook that labeled African slaves as “workers” and “immigrants,” according to Melonyce McAffee of CNN. Dean-Burren’s son is a ninth-grader at Pearland High School south of Houston.

“The Atlantic slave trade brought millions of workers … notice the nuanced language there. Workers implies wages … yes?” she wrote.

Her post gathered many readers, and a video posted to her page ended up drawing 1.4 million views on Sunday. McGraw-Hill paid attention and agreed that the wording did not live up to the publisher’s standards.

“We believe we can do better,” McGraw-Hill posted on its Facebook page Friday. “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.”

The online version of the textbook will be changed immediately and the edits will be included in the book’s next printing.

Dean-Burren posted that people’s voices do matter. It was Dean-Burren’s son who brought the passage to her attention.

But some believe these changes don’t go far enough. They want the publisher to recall textbooks from schools and replace texts for schools that cannot afford to purchase new books.

Others said the publisher’s revised language still minimizes the horrors of slavery.

“Forced migration? I believe the words you’re looking for are kidnapped and stolen,” wrote a commenter.

The video published on Facebook was of Dean-Burren reading from a section called “Patterns of Immigration” that explained how certain ethnic groups came to America. “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,” she reads. “So it is now considered ‘immigration.’ ”

When the textbook spoke of European immigrants, it explained that many came to America as “indentured servants to work for little or no pay.” She added that the Texas Advisory Board and other professional consultants are listed in the front of the book, all of whom supposedly signed off on the book’s content, reported KTRK-TV Houston.

“So they say that about English and European people, but there is no mention of African working as slaves or being slaves,” she said. “It just says we were workers.”

Texas has come under fire at other times for what some people call biased or revisionist history. The state’s board of education has been called out for material being taught on a number of issues including the Civil War and climate change. NPR reported that the state’s standards dictated that textbooks minimize the role of slavery in the Civil War and avoid issues such as Jim Crow laws in the South. A history professor at Southern Methodist University, Edward Countryman, told NPR that he felt the textbooks were worrisome.

A spokesperson from McGraw-Hill said the organization publishes textbooks that comply to Texas standards, but noted that the books were not to be used in other states.