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McGraw-Hill History Textbook Calls Slaves “Workers”: The Problem With Re-Writing History

October 6, 2015

Textbook publisher McGraw-Hill has published a Facebook response about its characterization of African slaves as merely workers under the category of “not too sorry” when toning down the concept of America’s history in slave trade. When a student’s mother noticed a history textbook calling slaves “agricultural workers,” she posted about the misleading statement online, and she garnered such a large response that McGraw-Hill says they will change the wording of their textbook–they just won’t say when.

When the mother posted a video detailing the textbook’s issues, McGraw-Hill issued an apology:

On Thursday, Dean-Burren posted a video showing the textbook pages, highlighting a section that describes English and European people who came to the U.S. to work as indentured servants, explaining that they worked “for little or no pay.” Dean-Burren continues, “They say that about English and European people, but there is no mention of Africans working as slaves or being slaves. It just says we were workers.”

Along with the video, which has been shared more than 45,000 times and received more than 9,000 likes, Dean-Burren wrote: “Erasure is real y’all!!! Teacher your children the truth!!!”

But is an apology enough for publishing inaccurate information as factual evidence? Where is the accountability for textbook publishers? How many more children will be “taught” that African slaves were merely agricultural “workers”?

Funnily enough, McGraw-Hill says that calling slaves “workers” meets “learning objectives.” Whose, I wonder? Whose learning objectives are met when history is misrepresented?

“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.”

When is the next print run? Glad to see that “learning objectives” take a second to financial objectives for McGraw-Hill. McGraw-Hill’s claims for validity just took a nosedive with that one.


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