Another Crisis for the Books
In any industry, it is important to proofread. In the textbook industry, it is extra important to proofread. McGraw-Hill, a corporation worth millions and known well for its education publishing, is under fire for an inappropriately underwhelming
description of the history of slavery in America in their “World Geography” textbook.
A Houston-area mother decided to call attention to this issue by posting a picture on Facebook of a passage in her son’s textbook that calls African slaves “workers” who came by “immigration.” She wrote in her post, “The Atlantic slave trade brought millions of workers…notice the nuanced language there. Workers implies wages..yes?”, garnering 1.4 million page views on Facebook.
McGraw-Hill responded on Facebook, the same platform used for the crisis-creating post, with a message to their critics, “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.”
Is this enough? While we commend McGraw-Hill for a rapid response, we do not believe it is enough. One of the first steps in problem-solving is to truly listen to the critiques given. One commenter on the video wrote in response to the statement, “Forced migration? I believe the words you’re looking for are kidnapped and stolen,” By focusing on the words it used in the text, McGraw-Hill is completely missing the point.
Changing a few words will not fix the problem. The problem lies in the perception that the company looks at the history of slavery without the moral outrage many of us feel today. And this perception is contributing to a growing public distrust in their ability to provide a proper education on this topic. To overcome this challenge, McGraw-Hill needs to show their dedication through a completely new approach to writing about slavery. To taking a page out of the crisis communications textbook (no pun intended), McGraw-Hill could make this right by providing updated editions of the textbook to schools, free of charge. And they could work to ensure that the public sees their commitment to educating America’s youth about this grim period of our nation’s history.
We study history to learn, so hopefully McGraw-Hill will learn from this one.