This 9th Grader Asks His Mom Why His Textbook Calls Slaves "Workers." Here's Her Facebook Response That Got The Language Changed.

By Michael Avery in News On 5th October 2015


Mother Roni Dean-Burren got a message from her son Coby, in which he snapped a shot of his ninth-grade McGraw-Hill World Geography textbook. In a section titled "Patterns of Immigration," the most that is dedicated to explaining how the majority of African people first made their way to the Americas is a speech bubble reading:

"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."

Following that Roni's son wrote, "We was real hard workers wasn't we," along with a very expressive emoji.

The Atlantic slave trade brought millions of workers...notice the nuanced language there. Workers implies...

Posted by Roni Dean-Burren on Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Roni screenshot the conversation and posted it to Facebook. She was proud of her son for recognizing at 15 years old what the producers of a school textbook couldn't: African people brought to America via the Atlantic Slave Trade weren't "workers." They were slaves.

The pic went viral and a lot of people had questions and wanted more context for the misleading historical caption. In a second post, Roni gives a little tour of the textbook, lingering on the dozens of people involved in its creation and their Ph.D.s. She also shows that the indentured servitude of European immigrants is given some lip service in the book, but there is no further information on the conditions of black slavery.

Many of you asked about my son's textbook. Here it is. Erasure is real y'all!!! Teach your children the truth!!!#blacklivesmatter

Posted by Roni Dean-Burren on Thursday, October 1, 2015

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Now, if you're wondering if a mom complaining on Facebook ever did anything, in this case it has! The book's maker McGraw-Hill Education put out the following statement on Friday:

This week, we became aware of a concern regarding a caption reference to slavery on a map in one of our world geography...

Posted by McGraw-Hill Education on Friday, October 2, 2015


While she's surprised at the level of reaction to her post, she has conflicted feelings about the results. It's great McGraw-Hill is responding, but those books are still out there and a new version is unlikely to be published for ten years. She says:

"On a surface level, ‘yay.' I understand that McGraw-Hill is a textbook giant, so thumbs up for listening...I know they can do better. They can send out a supplement. They can recall those books. Regardless of whether you're left-leaning or right-leaning, you know that's not really the story of slavery."

But some of the best lessons can't be learned in textbooks.

Shortly after the publisher's response, Dean-Burren and her son were sitting next to each other on the couch when Coby started dialing his mother's cell phone number.

"Why are you calling me?" she asked, confused.

He urged, "Answer your phone." Speaking into his, Coby fulfilled a request that Dean-Burren made when her son started high school.

"Mom," he said, "you told me to call you when I realized I could change the world."

Moms FTW.

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