Roughly 45 years after Alabama public schools used a textbook that focused on the benefits that slavery provided to slaves, a new textbook is being used in Texas that also appears to minimize the horrors of slavery.
The books, which will be used in 7th, 8th grade, and high school curricula in Texas, are published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson. They were approved by the Texas Board of Education in 2010 after a long, drawn-out battle over their contents, which were intended to “put a conservative stamp on history,” as the Times put it.
Jezebel scored an exclusive look at the new Texas textbooks, which may not be as outrageous as feared, but are still fairly problematic. While the textbooks do teach key elements and important figures in American slavery, they “demonstrate a troubling creep away from teaching actual history—and the unpleasant truth of America’s legacy of racism—and toward a sanitized fable of historical white morality,” according to the site.
That the Texas textbooks would teach a gentler version of slavery isn’t entirely a surprise, given who oversaw their creation — Pat Hardy, a Republican member of the Texas Board of Education that approved the textbook standards, once claimed that slavery was only a “side issue to the Civil War.”
Only the 8th-grade edition of the Texas textbook, Jezebel says, makes any meaningful mention of slavery. And even that mention “suggests a general unwillingness to clearly state just how horrific of an institution [slavery] was.”
Passages that reference violence often transition to characterizations of slaves as a hopeful, god-fearing bunch whose faith and sense of community when not working or being punished almost negated the nightmarish realities of their daily lives. And, though the violence of slaveholders is mentioned—often with quotes by former slaves—it’s generally followed by a reminder that their lives weren’t all bad. Slavery, the book suggests, was only truly miserable some of the time.
Jezebel cites a passage from the book that uses similar language as the 1971 Alabama textbook mentioned above, even as it describes the torture experienced by slaves.
The treatment of enslaved Africans varied. 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.
About five million Texas students began using these textbooks last week. Let’s hope that the controversy surrounding the books will spur some of them to seek out better, more historically accurate information about slavery.