Texas Textbooks Are Slowly Working To Remove Slavery From American History

Credit: Larry Kolvoord
Credit: Larry Kolvoord

Approved in 2010 and implemented in 2015, the Texas Board of Education voted to gradually remove the horror and history of slavery from textbooks administered to junior high and high school students.

American history has typically been “whitewashed,” as many point out that facts about the genocide of Native Americans, the brutality of slavery, and the dreadfulness of Japanese internment camps are watered down to lessen America’s past involvement in hate crimes. The less topics like these are discussed, the more racism and blind nationalism are ingrained into an already overly racist and nationalistic America.

Texas has decided to push this agenda even further by asking that textbook providers for their state follow their new curriculum, which was implemented last fall.

The new curriculum involves new language that diminishes the horrendous practice of slavery and all of the violence, discrimination, and torture that came with it and persevered long after slavery was abolished.

Not only is the language changed, but the texts state that slavery was a side issue in the Civil War, not the main cause. Slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War and the secession of the Southern states, and the demand for individual states rights not involving the federal government was just a product of their demand for the continued use of slaves.

As Steve Nelson from the Huffington Post wrote,

“The implications of this approach to education are evident in current political debate. If anything, our schools must become more critical of our past, not less. To de-emphasize the stain of slavery, the persistence of racism, the reality of sexism and the history of homophobia is to sentence future generations to ongoing social injustice.”

Credit: Roni Dean-Burren
Credit: Roni Dean-Burren

One example of the undermining of slavery is a caption that said that “immigration” from Africa to America involved many “workers” coming to the states rather than explaining that the slaves were forced to go.

A writing professor from Dartmouth, Ellen Rockmore, explains that the actual language of the textbook carefully depicts slavery as having an upside, while subverting the awful torture that slaves endured. An excerpt from the textbook reads, “Some slaves reported that their masters treated them kindly. To protect their investment, some slaveholders provided adequate food and clothing for their slaves. However, severe treatment was very common. Whippings, brandings, and even worse torture were all part of American slavery.”

Rockmore states that by using real people as subjects (slaves, slaveholders), it humanizes the actions in the sentence and makes them more tangible. The only sentences that use people as subjects are the ones that are painting slavery as a good institution, like saying that slaveholders provided food and clothes and that some were kind. The sentences that don’t use real people are the ones that attempt to undermine the “severe treatment” and the “whippings, brandings” that slaves endured. By omitting slaves as the actual subject from the sentences, it dehumanizes the true victims and can cause readers to pass right over them.

The textbooks go on to say that there were many upsides to slavery, such as the spread of folk tales, the strengthening of African-American culture, and the impact slaves had on Southern agriculture and the economy.

Fortunately, the new textbook content isn’t as terrible as some anticipated it to be. Initial reports stated that the textbooks were going to omit the history of the KKK and Jim Crow laws, both of which are critical to telling the story of American slavery. For now, these important facts have not been omitted—yet.

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