Song of the South: 2004

I’ve been on a tear lately about the false science infiltrating public school textbooks. And I keep wondering what kinds of misinformation will creep into texts in other subjects.

I’m not alone, it seems. A recent L.A. Times editorial considered the evolution warning stickers (“Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things”) placed on science texts in Cobb County, Georgia, and posed this inflammatory question:

What next? A back-cover sticker to American history texts wondering if ending slavery was really such a great idea?

I know: we’re not there yet (although thanks to my racist father I’m well aware that some people actually do think this way), and perhaps we won’t be. But Dana has alerted me to a controversy surrounding a metro and suburban Atlanta social studies textbook for public school third-graders. The book’s comments on slavery are limited to these:

It took many people to work in the cotton fields. Georgia was one of the states that used slaves to help grow cotton and other crops. Black people from Africa and the West Indies were brought to America to help do the work on large farms.

Yes, everything was just hunky-dory down in the good old South, a paradise to which “black people” excitedly relocated from Africa so they could “help” and then loll about on the plantations! Nobody was beaten, lynched, raped or worked to death. No one’s toes were cut off after botched escape attempts. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs were exaggerating. The Underground Railroad was an advanced and misconstrued game of hide-and-seek.


When the mother of an African American student in the district complained that the book completely mischaracterized slavery, an area social studies coordinator defended its use, noting that the curriculum didn’t mandate instruction in African American history until fourth grade. (At which time, no doubt, the district would shift gears entirely, encouraging children to dramatize harrowing selections from the WPA Slave Narratives.)

In the end, the local Board of Education “denied [the mother’s] request to stop using the book,” but “directed teachers to find other resources on slavery and civil rights to fill in the gaps.”


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