Mom calls out publisher after textbooks refer to slaves as workers

HOUSTON – Pearland High School freshman Coby Burren said his favorite subject in school is history.

"I love social studies. I love history, and I love the study of people," said the 15-year-old.

While he was reading his Geography textbook he noticed one of the captions on the page which read, "The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations."

The word choice stuck out to him, so he took a picture of the caption and sent it to his mom in a text.

"The word 'workers' stuck out to me. It's as if black people 'worked' our way up in America. As if we came here by choice for a better life, but if you read any other history book you would see that Africa had some of the most advanced systems in civilization," he said.

His mother Roni Dean-Burren, who is a professor, decided to take what her son sent her and put it on Facebook.

"I just wanted to give him a voice, and to let him know that students can have a voice too. After I posted the video the conversation took off. People started asking me who published the textbook, and they wanted to know more about the caption. They started looking through their children's textbooks to see if there were any errors. This brings up the importance of word choice, and truthful narratives. I think the word 'worker' softens the American experience for millions of people who were slaves. I think it makes it a little less painful and intense to read, and the implication is that slavery wasn't that bad, but we know that is not the case," she said.

Two hours after she posted her video on Facebook she received 10,000 views. As of Wednesday, almost 2 million people have viewed her video, more than 48,000 people have shared her post and hundreds have left comments.

"Hopefully a real conversation will begin. There is a committee that reviews those books. Who is on the Texas Board of Education that regulates the standard, and decides what is omitted and what is added," Dean-Burren said.

The publisher of the textbook, McGraw Hill, issued a statement on their Facebook page after Dean-Burren's post went viral. The post states, "We are deeply sorry that the caption was written this way. While the book was reviewed by many people inside and outside the company, and was made available for public review, no one raised concerns about the caption. Yet, clearly, something went wrong and we must and will do better."

McGraw-Hill has offered customers the choice of either a sticker to cover and replace the caption or to request a new corrected printed copy of the book.