I imagine by now we've all heard of McGraw-Hill's appalling conflation of slaves with "workers" who came to America to work. If not, you can read up here.
There seems to be a few American Studies-esque questions buried in this story. What happens to the old adage we tell ourselves about history belonging to whoever gets to tell the story in the digital age when there are intelligent kids walking around with cell phones?
How are we to consider America and Americanness as a nation of immigrants, captives, and victims of invasion—basically a bunch of people who never really wanted to live together and still haven’t gotten over that? The history and presence of the construct of “race” obviously ties in.
Seems to me there are even questions about work, education, childhood, and motherhood in the way the McGraw-Hill story played out.
And I’d hate to miss out on the question asked on H-Afro-Am: what is the role of the scholarly community in the debacle? The H-Afro-Am inquires into a scholarly community demanding accurate discussion in textbooks, but Roni Dean-Burren, who brought the matter to light, drew attention to a couple pages of people with PhD’s after their names who are listed in the book’s first pages as “Academic Contributors.” How heavily involved do you suppose any of them were in the writing of the book? How much drive to you think there might be among academics who want to change the world to be more closely tied to textbook writing for high school students? (Or maybe some other kind of content more befitting the digital age those students live in?) I don’t think writing college textbooks ranks in tenure reviews; what sort of encouragement is there to work on high school texts?
Probably none. But I expect we all have heard a professor or two express amazement at the things their incoming freshman classes don't seem to know. Is there maybe some role for those of us who "know" to do a better job sharing our knowledge? Thank goodness Cody Dean-Burren, the ninth grader who took the picture of the offensive caption, thinks so. But are the pages of PhD's at the front of the book to blame? It seems easier to blame the more anonymous, corproate publisher, but does that entail abdicating responsibility? Academics regularly put our names and credentials on textbooks, but are we really shirking responsibility for their contents?