Bahorich: Controversy on textbooks is a “teachable moment” |

Posted: 11:10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 9, 2015

Too often, we dismiss our schoolchildren as aloof, with eyes too buried in their text messages to see the world around them. But our kids are smarter than most of us realize — and they prove it to me every day.

Ninth-grader Coby Burren of Pearland is one of those kids. He noticed a caption on an illustration in a world geography textbook published by McGraw-Hill that declared that slave traders brought “workers” to U.S. shores in the 18th and 19th centuries. That poor choice of words resulted in an uproar on social media – and rightfully so.

There is a rush to find villains in this story, but we should instead focus on the hero. That’s because lost in the stampede to comment on this egregious error is a lesson that a ninth-grader taught all of us: words matter, and being honest about a shameful part of our history matters.

This is an opportunity to focus on the affront to morality that slavery was and is — and the pain that is its disgraceful legacy. That should be our takeaway. Instead, many are only too eager to promote a false narrative that calls into question our adopted textbooks as unreliable in telling the complete story, warts and all.

While our state standards are a frequent target, the American-Statesman took the time and effort to tell the whole story. A reporter who thoroughly reviewed Civil War coverage in the state’s new history textbooks also reached out to scholars, who concluded that the criticism of those textbooks is overblown. “Ballyhooed Texas textbooks don’t whitewash Civil War, scholars say,” the newspaper headline declared. Even the book containing the false caption has numerous other citations with detailed — and brutally honest — depictions of slavery in several other chapters…

…In the end, this story is about how we don’t have to just accept something that’s wrong. Even a high school freshman can make a difference and make a bad situation right, just as Coby Burren did. We just need to be more committed to making progress than to making a point. After all, the reason we study history is to make the future better than the past.


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