A group of educators in Texas proposed referring to slavery as “involuntary relocation” in second-grade classes – before being rebuffed by the State Board of Education.
The nine educators made up one of many groups tasked with advising the Texas board on changes to the social studies curriculum, which would affect the state’s almost 9,000 public schools.
Minutes of a June 15 meeting in Austin, which lasted over 13 hours, said committee members got an update on the social studies review before giving their feedback.
“The committee provided the following guidance to the work group completing recommendations for kindergarten-grade 8: . . . For K-2, carefully examine the language used to describe events, specifically the term ‘involuntary relocation.’ “
Aicha Davis, a Democratic board member representing Dallas and Fort Worth, raised the wording during the meeting, which was first reported by the Texas Tribune.
She told The Washington Post on Friday that when looking through a hefty package of recommendations, she saw the proposed language the group wanted to suggest, and “I immediately questioned it.”
“I am not going to support anything that describes the slave trade as ‘involuntary relocation’,” she said. “I’m not gonna support anything that diminishes that journey.”
Part of the proposed draft standards for the curriculum directed students to “compare journeys to America, including voluntary Irish immigration and involuntary relocation of African people during colonial times,” the Texas Tribune Texas reported and Davis confirmed to The Post.
She said that such comparisons were “absolutely” not fair. “The journey for the Irish folk is totally different from the journey of Africans,” she said, adding that any comparisons “will distort a lot of things in a young child’s mind.”
The chair of the State Board of Education, Keven Ellis, told the Tribune that the board “with unanimous consent directed the work group to revisit that specific language.”
Ellis and the Texas Education Agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.
The work group behind the recommendation included teachers, social studies specialists, instructional coaches and a university professor, according to a list on the education agency’s website.
In a statement posted on Twitter on Thursday, the Texas Education Agency responded to the backlash the proposal had created.
“As documented in the meeting minutes, the SBOE provided feedback in the meeting indicating that the working group needed to change the language related to ‘involuntary relocation,’ ” it said.
“Any assertion that the SBOE is considering downplaying the role of slavery in American history is completely inaccurate.”
The State Board of Education mandates policies and standards for Texas public schools, setting curriculum rules, reviewing and adopting instructional materials and overseeing some funding. It will have a final vote on the curriculum at the end of the year, according to board member Davis, who said it had a responsibility to adopt truthful information to prepare students for their futures.
Next year, the board will also select textbooks to match the standards they eventually adopt, she added. “We have some work to do.”
The incident has sparked anger on social media. Former Austin and Houston police chief Art Acevedo called it “whitewashing history” and said “slavery deniers are just as dangerous as Holocaust deniers.”
One user wrote: “Involuntary relocation is what happens when you lose your home in a hurricane. Not what happened during slavery.”
Texas’s education system has been the subject of much recent controversy amid a culture war over how historical and current events should be taught.
Recent policies have led to books on sexual orientation being banned, as well as those that “contain material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress.”
Last year, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill prohibiting K-12 public schools from teaching “critical race theory” – an academic framework centered on the idea that racism is systemic, not limited to individual prejudices, that conservatives have used as a label for any discussion of race in schools.
More recently, a north Texas school district was forced to apologize after an administrator advised teachers that if they have books about the Holocaust in their classrooms, they should also include reading materials that have “opposing” perspectives.