Amid increasingly critical race theory legislation, education experts say textbook content could be next

Kathyrn Garra was horrified to see dozens of angry parents show up at a school board meeting in Naples, Fla. Last month to try to stop the Collier County school board from approving new textbooks.

Parents argued the books should be ousted because publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt shared racial justice blog posts and expressed his commitment to Black Lives Matter on his website, actions they say , amounted to endorsing the teaching of critical race theory in schools. .

“Critical race theory isn’t taught in our schools, it just isn’t,” said Garra, 48, the mother of a new high school student. “But here you have people complaining about something they don’t know anything about and now going after the textbooks.”

Critical race theory, or the academic study of the impact of racism, has become a flashpoint in American schools and a point of attack for conservative activists. At least nine states have enacted bans on teaching subjects related to racial equity and systematic injustice through laws or other measures that prohibit critical race theory.

Even though textbook content is not explicitly mentioned in most state law, education experts say restrictions may extend to textbooks as book review boards dilute the content they interpret. as falling under prohibitions.

Textbook adoption committees, for example, can now avoid choosing anything that might go against what the state wants teachers to teach or that could expose the district to litigation, Julia said. Kaufman, senior policy researcher at the nonprofit Rand Corporation where she co-chairs panels of American educators.

With largely vague guidelines about what is prohibited, most are likely to err on the side of caution, she added. That means textbook commissions reviewing books could select those that don’t include lessons about racism and sexism in history and social studies curricula, she said.

“If I was in a state that had this legislation passed, I might not even read the legislation, but I could approach the topics that I think relate to this legislation with caution. I could be like, ‘I’d better not bring this up.’ “

This was Garra’s concern when parents and community members began complaining about textbooks in Collier County, claiming they violated the Florida Department of Education’s current ban on the theory. criticism of the breed.

“Textbooks are already leaving a lot out,” she said. I didn’t find out about Black Wall Street until I was 48 years old. So many people don’t know about the Trail of Tears, and this story offends people so much that they want to deprive their children of a valuable learning experience.

History textbooks, especially in more conservative-leaning states, have long been criticized for sanitizing and even omitting the full experiences of people of color.

In 2015, a Texas mother called the state school board and publisher McGraw Hill for a textbook describing African slaves taken to the United States as “immigrants” and “workers.”

Excerpts from a 2015 Louisiana public school textbook that described the Civil War through the struggles of a wealthy white woman who lived on a plantation with more than 150 slaves went viral on social networks, with hundreds of comments denouncing the whitewashing of history.

A 2020 New York Times The survey found that social studies textbooks with the same name had “hundreds of differences” depending on whether they were used in California or Texas.

The textbook selection process is conducted at the state or district level and typically follows a six to eight year adoption cycle. States with larger textbook markets such as Texas, Florida, and California tend to dictate what publishers publish and these versions are then made available to other states.

Review boards or committees, which are primarily politically appointed, are responsible for reviewing, editing, and selecting books submitted by various publishers to meet state standards set by lawmakers on subjects individual. The people who typically make up these panels are a mix of educators, administrators, and lay people, but the process is often partisan.

Morgan Polikoff, associate professor of education at the University of Southern California, said most children in conservative states are probably already learning a more sanitized history, but current measures restricting certain topics may stunt the growth of racial awareness and history that could have happened, especially at the local level.

Based on data from Share My Lesson, the free online lesson plan site for educators set up by the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers’ union, Interest in Collections of resources that deal with race, racism and the teaching of American slavery has doubled since the murder. of George Floyd last year, the union said in a statement to NBC News.

“Where the bans are probably more likely to have potential implications, it would be at the local district level, as local districts are typically where most of the action regarding textbook adoption takes place,” Polikoff said. “So you might see parents getting more involved in the adoption process, or raising more questions about the material or editors that are assigned to their students. “

In Williamson County, Tennessee, just south of Nashville, parents and community members fiercely opposed several books used in a school’s English curriculum that they say fall under of the new state law banning critical race theory, according to Tennessee.

Among the books they want to ban is “Ruby Bridges Goes to School,” written by Bridges, one of the first black students to enter New Orleans’ all-white public school system. The book was honored, in part, because it did not offer “redemption” at its end, the newspaper reported.

While there are members of the textbook selection who may avoid topics like race because they fear breaking the law, there are also others who would have diluted the content anyway, but new laws now give them the cover to do so, Polikoff said.

Stefanie Wager, president of the National Council for Social Studies, said most teachers don’t just rely on textbooks for teaching and usually use extra material for teaching. But the bans could also lead to increased scrutiny of these exterior materials, she said.

“The field of social studies has really pushed a more inquiry-based approach over the past five to seven years. You will see teachers using many primary sources and introducing different perspectives. But I can see teachers moving away from this pedagogical approach or sticking to what the textbooks say, ”she said.

Wager added that she was also concerned that states would reassess their curriculum standards, which would have a direct impact on the textbook selection process, due to the bans.

“If the standards contain things that they don’t like, I can see states revising the standards to remove anything they deem to be critical race theory, even if it is a term. higher education, but the way it’s spoken is like that catch-all for anything to do with race or culture, ”she said.

“Things like civic action could be changed because some people may interpret it to teach children to walk on the streets like what we saw last summer. But that’s really not the intention of it, it just says that in a democracy it’s important to take action if you see a problem in your community, ”she said. “But I can see some states reacting to clean up the standards so that maybe they don’t include as much language around civic action.”

The Collier County School Board finally approved the textbooks that had sparked debate after the publisher, in response to the board, said the blog posts did not represent the entire company and that Black Lives Matter was not a political statement. The school board had also asked Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to remove his Black Lives Matter position, but the company did not comply.

Jim O’Neill, general manager of core solutions at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said in a statement that the company “stands by its pro-black life statement” and is “committed to being anti-racist and supporting diversity, equity and inclusion – these are not political issues, but human rights issues that align with our core values. ”

The school board affirmed its position in a declaration saying that the school board and principal “do not support the teaching of Critical Race Theory (‘CRT”) in its classrooms, and that CRT is not and will not be part of the curriculum of studies and the teaching and learning environment of the district. “

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Jennifer Schuman

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