Textbooks containing passages that downplay the cruelty of slavery have been removed from fifth grade classrooms in Brookline, Massachusetts following outrage from parents.
The two page passage from the 2003 edition of "Harcourt Horizons: United States History" states that "slaves were treated well or cruelly depending on their owners," and "some planters took pride in being fair and kind to their slaves." Parent, lawyer, and activist Brooks Ames was the first to bring this issue to light after seeing the passages in his daughter's textbook last year.
"What bothers me about this book is the way we're teaching about racism," Ames said. "Slavery was a racist system. It was a cruel system. It was an evil system. And when you start talking about good slave owners and bad slave owners and happy slaves and slaves that weren't so happy you're completely missing the point. And the fact that this textbook was in our schools for 10 years is a system failure."
Other parents shared these views.
"I think the very idea that we are putting a good face on one person owning another person is of itself, cruel," Arthur Wellington Conquest, a parent, said.
A group of parents first took their concerns about the way slavery was portrayed to their children's teacher, and then contacted the Brookline public schools superintendent Bill Lupini. According to the Boston Globe, when the parents first went to Lupini the problematic passages were removed from lesson plans, although they could still be used in critical thinking lessons. Teachers were allowed to continue using the rest of the book. According to deputy superintendent Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, the book had bigger problems.
"The way this book portrayed slavery was absolutely downplaying the lives of enslaved people," Fischer-Mueller said. "Then we also came to find out that there were aspects of this chapter that were [factually] inaccurate."
Following a new set of complaints regarding the textbooks, district officials decided it was too risky to keep the books in classrooms because the students still had the ability to read the passages. The books were removed from all classrooms shortly after. Lupini said that materials from other parts of the book are still being provided to teachers.
Ames and his contemporaries are relieved that the books have been removed, but are frustrated that it took nearly a year and the intervention of the media for this process to be completed.
"I don't appreciate that in order to get the book removed, or a promise to get the book removed, we had to go to the media," Ames said.
The publisher of the textbook released a statement saying that the version of the books used by the Brookline public school district was outdated, and more recent editions depict slavery more accurately.
"We appreciate the concerns expressed by parents about the language in the edition of 'U.S. History' used by the Brookline public schools," Jennifer Berlin, spokeswoman for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said. "That language was changed in later editions to reflect more strongly the overall suffering slaves experienced."