Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Trouble With Freelancers

Your average textbook is written by freelance writers, in large part because it is cheaper for the publisher to pay a pittance to a freelancer than to keep a staff of writers on hand. It takes a lot of writers to cover all the many topics, and what publisher can afford a science writer, a grammarian, a math expert, a geography wiz, etc. etc.

So publishers like McGraw-Hill accept the work of independent contractors, and then use those many paragraphs to create a textbook that meets the requirements of multiple school districts. The idea is to sell as many copies as possible, of course, so the words have to be carefully selected to avoid offending some group of parents or the local curriculum guidance committee or whoever is making the decisions.

Fraught with peril, as they say.

We's happy workers, massa
Sometimes the in-house editor doesn't catch an error and the book goes out to the students. It's the parents, helicoptering over their offspring, who find the mistakes that might be minor, but could be significant. In the case of a McGraw-Hill history text, it's one word that's wrong, but that wrong word makes a huge difference in the history lesson.

In explaining immigrant migration patterns, the freelance writer employed by McGraw-Hill used the word "worker" to describe the Africans who 'migrated' to America. Sure, they worked in agriculture. But it wasn't as if they left Africa willingly, part of the masses yearning to be free.

No, wait, they were yearning to be free, but that was after they arrived, not before.

One mom in Texas saw the bizarre passage and called out her local school board for using such a misleading text. You'd think it was written by a Confederate apologist, to read that Africans migrated to America and found work. The term 'worker' doesn't have the nuance of 'slave', which is such a negative word. We don't want our children to be exposed to such harshness, do we?

Why, if those huddled masses on the Ivory Coast were workers, what was the point of the Civil War? Not to free the workers, I dare say.

As the aggravated parent discovered, however, once a book is printed it is finished and complete. There is no going back to reprint it after making a slight adjustment to a single paragraph. The costs are more than prohibitive. The digital edition can be easily repaired, and McGraw-Hill has promised to make the correction, but the book and its error will live on in Texas schools until the book itself falls to pieces from repeated use.

Until that time, then, Texas children will read about all the people who came to America and be led to believe that the Africans were just another ethnic group following a well-worn path. Unless their teacher provides the correction in a lesson, that's where their little heads will be placed, and when it's time to study the Civil War, they can comfortably believe that it was just a matter of states' rights in the War of Northern Aggression.

And the South will rise again!

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