Over the weekend, in a segment on Fox and Friends, radio host Larry Elder decried a textbook about the Black Lives Matter movement. The textbook, Elder complained, is aimed at white students in grades 6 through 12, and could "indoctrinate" children to "believe that black people are victims and white people should feel guilty about it."
The conservative media immediately picked up on the story. It earned scathing write-ups in right-wing sites like Twitchy, the Daily Caller, and the IJ Review. The textbook became a common point of mockery and anger for readers of these sites, who piled on in comments sections and on Facebook, picking up on the theme of indoctrination of white teen students.
Except here's the thing: Elder hasn't read the book, the book is not meant to be used as a textbook, and it isn't aimed specifically at white kids. Also, it hasn't even been released yet.
"Many of these books are sold to libraries, ranging from school libraries to public libraries although books by educational publishers are also used in classrooms," Sue Bradford Edwards, co-author of Black Lives Matter (Special Reports), told Fusion in an email. "A student doing a paper on the Black Lives Matter movement or Trayvon Martin might pick up this book in the library."
In a separate email to Fusion, Paul Abdo, editor-in-chief of ABDO Publishing, who is releasing the book, said that the Fox News report was "totally inaccurate." His company doesn't sell textbooks.
"We are very confused as to how the media stories have been so misconstrued regarding this book," Abdo wrote.
"The book is for any kid who is interested in the subject or wants more information than say a television news story. Nowhere has ABDO ever mentioned it is aimed at white kids nor was that ever our intention."
Abdo told Fusion that the company has published around 500 titles a year over the last 30 years and have begun to focus more and more on current events and social issues "like transgender issues, gay marriage, cyber bullying."
In a statement announcing the book, set to be published by ABDO Publishing in November, co-author Duchess Harris, a professor of Black Feminism and African American political movements at Macalester College, laid out her reasoning for writing this book with Sue Edwards, a children's author from St. Louis who has covered the foment in Ferguson for local newspapers.
“In my classroom, I found too many students unaware of the history behind current events,” said Harris. “I looked for a book like this, and didn't find it. The discussion needs to happen sooner, but educators need a tool that’s comprehensive and engaging."
In an interview with Twin Cities Public Television, Harris explained her reasoning further and noted that St. Paul Public Schools and Minneapolis Public Schools are in discussions to order copies of the book.
The Daily Caller received the book announcement and reacted to the news of its existence with the headline: "Fancypants Professor Introduces Black Lives Matter Book For White SIXTH GRADERS" (capitalization theirs).
The post, written by the site's education editor Eric Owens, opens, "It’s never too early to teach young children to revel in racial discord fomented by radical intellectuals who believe American society is hopelessly and structurally oppressive."
Quoting heavily from a review (in fact the first review of the book) written by UC-Irvine PhD candidate M. Shadee Malaklou that appeared on The Feminist Wire, Owens continues: "Don’t worry, though, the book explains how “black people have been killed with impunity” “since time immemorial” in a way that is not “emotionally overwhelming 6-12th graders who are learning about the movement, and its inheritance, for the first time.” (The book for sixth graders “also resonates with lower-division university students.”)
Owens then points out Harris' background:
Harris is an American Studies professor at toney Macalester College, a private liberal arts college in a wealthy, tranquil section of St. Paul, Minn. that is 86 percent white.
Accrding to The College Board, just two percent of the students who attend Macalester are black.
Tuition, fees and room and board at Macalester run $59,761 per year — or just $75 less than the entire annual household income of a typical Minnesota family.
How the location of Harris' college, its demographics, or the cost of that institution matters to this discussion, Owens does not say. But it's clear, by simply wanting to give informational resources to children in digestible form, and by having the book be written by a black woman and a white woman, ABDO has revealed their sinister agenda.
Authors Harris and Edwards are curious about the negative media mentions they've been receiving as well.
She explained to Fusion the difference between this book and a textbook, too. Basically, textbooks are for teaching in a classroom. They "are instructional sections as well as exercises which might include discussion questions or problems." Their book is meant as non-fiction to teach anyone anywhere facts about an issue.
Fusion was given a copy of the book by the authors. It is 57 pages long as a PDF and the font is huge. Enough material to pique interest? Sure. Enough material to successfully indoctrinate even the most susceptible student who is willing to do reading on current events that isn't schoolwork? Doubtful.
The first chapter covers Michael Brown's killing and the ensuing protests in Ferguson. The second is a very cursory look at the black experience in America throughout history (one sentence on Jim Crow Laws, five on the Freedman's Bureau, three on the Tuskegee Airmen, etc). Naturally, the bulk of the second chapter is devoted to the Civil Rights Movement and it matches what you remember from your primary-school history classes.
The book covers Oscar Grant, and Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, too. There's a glossary and some sources for readers to look at if they want to learn even more.
This book seems like a good read for young people who are interested in the subject. If a child wants to read something that is unbiased, fact-based, and straightforward–the only mentions of "murder" in the book are when specific criminal charges are being discussed–shouldn't that be celebrated?
To anyone who disagrees: write your own book.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org