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Mother Shares Textbook Describing African Slaves as 'Workers'

by Ashley Mungiguerra /
A screen shot of a text message showing the textbook posted on Roni Dean-Burren's Instagram and Facebook.Roni Dean-Burren / via Facebook

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A high school geography textbook has been making the rounds on social media after a concerned mother posted a video showing a page that described African slaves as simply "'workers."

Roni Dean-Burren posted the video to her Facebook page after her son Coby sent her a photo of his ninth-grade geography book. The video shows the textbook with a map detailing immigration patterns across American history. Africans are listed as one of those "immigrant" groups; the caption reads: "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."

Dean-Burren, a mother and former teacher in Pearland, Texas, a suburb of Houston, called out the publisher of the textbook — McGraw-Hill Education, one of the largest textbook providers in the country.

The post so far has been shared over 45,000 times on Facebook and has almost 4,000 comments and over 9,000 likes.

McGraw-Hill posted a response to the video on their own Facebook page, stating that the caption "did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves."

The publisher stated that they could "do better." However, they only promised to change the digital version of the book. The changes will not be made in print until the book's next edition is published. Since the copyright is for 2016, the new textbook will not be released for another five to ten years, meaning that the current book could sit in schools for a decade.

This is not the first time that Texas textbooks have come under fire for attempting to re-cast history.

In November 2014, the state Board of Education approved 89 new books to be distributed all across the state; these books were highly criticized for passages about Moses' influence in American democracy, downplaying the issue of slavery's role in the Civil War, and failing to adequately address segregation during the Jim Crow era. The books adhere to standards set in 2010.

As one of the largest states in the country, Texas spends tens of millions of dollars on textbooks each year, according to the Texas Freedom Network, which advocates for several issues including informing citizens about how the State Board of Education determines its textbook standards.

Currently, the board of 15 elected members creates a list of approved textbooks. School districts are only allowed to use state money to buy books on the approved list. The board can reject books if they include factual errors or fail to meet the state's curriculum standards.

High school students are expected to be able to "explain the development of the slave trade" and "explain the impact of the Atlantic slave trade on West Africa and the Americas."

McGraw-Hill did not specify how they will reword the textbook, but said that they will "update this caption to describe the arrival of African slaves in the U.S. as a forced migration."

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