My Daughter’s 4th Grade Textbook

Posted By Holly Olsen / January 27, 2017 / 0 Comments

This post addresses Global Goals #4 and #10! Learn more about why this matters here. #17in17

It was as evening like any other school night in November, we had just finished dinner and my kids were wrapping up their homework. My 4th grader asked me if I would quiz her using flashcards she had made at school to help prepare for the social studies test the next day. They had been studying about the history of Connecticut in class. The flash cards had information on them about different explorers, what life was like then, etc. Eventually I came upon a card that read, “How were slaves treated in Connecticut?” The answer on the other side, written in my daughter’s handwriting, threw me into a bit of a spiral. It said, “They were treated like family.” Here is a bit of her study guide:

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What?? I probed her about what this meant. Perhaps she was confused (well, I know she was confused in one sense). She said that the information was from her textbook. We proceeded to have a long discussion about how it could never be said that a slave was treated like family. Owning another human cannot be considered a familial relationship, no matter how nicely you treat them. I explained that if they really wanted to treat their slaves like family, they would free them, help them find their families, help them do whatever it is they wanted to do with their lives, apologize for what had been done to them, and do their best to make restitution for having played a part in any part of a system of slavery. And so on and so on and so on.

I was still so confused about how “They were treated like family” could be the take-away from my daughter’s class regarding slavery. How dangerous a message to send to children: that slavery wasn’t that bad in some places. I felt sorry for any black kids who went home with this same flash card to study with their caregivers. How could this be a real thing? I had to get to the bottom of it. As parents, we never get to see this particular textbook. It was a book that stays at school year-round. I decided to ask her teacher if I could see a copy before I said anything. I wanted to verify that the text really said something so racist.IMG_4706

Within a couple of days, my daughter came home with the textbook. It was called, “The Connecticut Adventure”. It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for. Yes, it actually said what I had feared, among other things like how the slave owners “taught them to be Christian” (don’t get me started).

I was now in a position to do something. In the current political climate, I believe strongly that when you see something, you need to say something. As a person who shies away from confrontational situation, this was not easy for me, except that the alternative of letting something like that go was unbearable. How could I sleep at night knowing that this level of racism was in our public school system in such a blatant way?

I contacted my daughter’s teacher to let her know I was troubled about information in the book and that I wanted to meet with her about it. I also told a few of my neighbors (who were equally shocked) about what I had found. I was encouraged to post the information to a closed Facebook group of parents and educators in the area because members of the Board of Education were on it and it would get the attention of people who could help change the textbook. I also posted it on my own feed because I wanted feedback on how to address the situation. It didn’t take long for that post to get a lot of attention. The comments were fast and furious. I was even contacted by local media before I even had the chance to meet with the teacher.

IMG_4719Thankfully, when the teacher (and vice principal) finally were able to meet with me, they were in agreement with the fact that the text needed to be changed. They were cooperative and helpful as to what steps needed to be taken.

Before I knew it, I got word that the story of the racism in the textbook was picked up by national news, and that the school district had made the decision to pull the textbook from the entire district starting in January 2017. Wow! That was fast! I believe that the decision was likely expedited due to the publicity that the story got. Perhaps had I not posted my quandary to social media, the change would have taken longer (although I’m confident it would have happened at some point).

In the end, the school district gained national attention and was even praised by the United Nations for doing the right thing! Hooray for activism! Hooray for healthy parent/teacher/school partnerships on behalf of our children and the future! Hooray for positive change! Hooray for this baby step! Here are a few of the places that reported on the textbook change:

http://www.thehour.com/news/article/Fourth-grade-textbook-s-take-on-Connecticut-10779004.php

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/textbook-describing-slaves-as-family-members-is-ba/

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=55915#.WIu4hbYrJE4

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/0f5f5f66abff4d42824d9d1d94654676

So yes,when you see something, say something…. And know that you may very well be required to then DO something. We have to do more that speak, we must act. This is why, when I was asked to serve on the committee to help find a new textbook for the school district, I felt honored and I said yes.

We had our first meeting this week. I was impressed at how thorough the process would be over the months to come. I also learned that the publisher of “The Connecticut Adventure” had reached out offering free… almost anything to remedy the situation (but the school district declined). Just out of curiousity, I looked up the book on Amazon.com, and it is no longer available.

Hooray for this small victory.… there is still so much more to do. 

holly

Holly Olsen is a mother of four daughters. She has a long history of activism, creating ripples that have been recognized by the United Nations humanitarian endeavors and Global Citizen. She is a published author, a co-founder of two non-profit organizations, a professor, and is known for her ability to create positive social change. In her blog, you will read about her adventures with and attempts to further the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals).

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