by Mary Spiller
December 2, 2023
In 2015, she called out McGraw-Hill Education Publishing company for whitewashing textbooks back by calling slaves ‘migrants.’
Dr. Roni Dean-Burren, a Texas mother and advocate for equitable education, has passed away at the age of 46 on Nov. 24. She gained national attention a decade ago when she criticized McGraw-Hill, the publisher of her son’s school history book, for inaccurately referring to Black slaves as “migrants.”
As reported by NewsOne, Dean-Burren’s cause of death hasn’t been announced, but tributes of her legacy to the educational community have been posted to social media over Thanksgiving weekend. She’s been hailed as a powerhouse in her field in uplifting Black youth’s learning after she successfully obtained her doctorate degree in education.
Over the past few years, she had taken on roles such as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston, president of the Texas Council of English Language Arts Teachers, and director of Gifted and Talented at the Houston Independent School District.
Many are recalling Dean-Burren for what she’s most known for. In 2015, she called out McGraw-Hill Education for whitewashing Black history. She posted a video online of her son’s nearly 1,000-page textbook that repeatedly referred to enslaved Africans as migrant workers. In the viral video, she recalled that her 15-year-old son, Coby, who was a freshman at the time, texted her a photo of a page out of his history textbook. It repeatedly called slaves toiling away on plantations as workers, implying that it was voluntary labor.
At the time, Dean-Burren captioned her Facebook post of the incident, “Many of you asked about my son’s textbook. Here it is. Erasure is real y’all!!! Teach your children the truth!!!”
After her post gained traction, she continued to express her anger about the incident to The New York Times, referencing the 100,000 copies of the incorrect textbook that had already been issued to the Pearland Independent School District. She said, “It talked about the U.S.A. being a country of immigration, but mentioning the slave trade in terms of immigration was just off. It’s that nuance of language. This is what erasure looks like.”
Following the backlash stirred up by the educator, McGraw-Hill quickly issued a public apology for the textbook and the language used in it.
“[We] did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves,” the company wrote in their apology.
Dean-Burress was praised by the University of Houston Curriculum and Instruction College (CUIN) clinical professor Margaret Hale for her activism. Hale said, “Roni epitomizes the idea that one person can make a difference. By listening to her son’s concerns and then voicing those publicly, she has affected change with a major textbook publisher and shown not only students but adults as well that words matter. Her advocacy and a passion are a model for all of us in education.”
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