Nel's New Day

February 18, 2019

Tell Scholastic to Publish Accurate Educational Materials

When I was young, we celebrated the birthdays of two presidents born in February, Abraham Lincoln (2/12/1809) and George Washington (2/22/1731), the latter being a national holiday for the past 140 years. In the past few decades, Lincoln seems to have lost his popularity, and only seven states celebrate his birthday. Even “George Washington Day” has largely become “President’s” or “Presidents’” Day in the states—although three states don’t celebrate the holiday.

For over a century, children were taught the myth that Washington said he could not tell a lie. Washington’s storyteller went overboard with this tale, but Washington insisted on paying the new nation’s war debts, despite his colleagues suggesting that the U.S. renege on payments to both its new citizens and French investors in the Revolutionary War.

The man inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States Presidents Day, the current occupant of the White House, reportedly told 8,158 lies during the first two years after his inauguration—almost 6,000 during his second year. That’s almost 16.5 a day, nearly triple the pace.

Almost two years ago, Scholastic Books, well-known in the past for being a reputable publisher of books for youth, came out two books by Joanne Mattern, both called President Donald Trump. The first, for ages 6-7, is in the Rookie Biographies series, and the second in True Books series is for children ages 8-10.

The younger book begins with this poem:

His buildings reached into the sky.

His businesses just grew and grew.

Then Trump became our president–

People wanted something new.

The first prose text states:

“Meet Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a famous entrepreneur. He is also a television personality. In 2015, Trump surprised many people when he decided to run for president. In November 2016, he won the election. Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States.”

And continues:

“Donald Trump inspired his supporters to try something new. He promised them a better future. Millions of Americans are counting on him to help improve their lives.”

Trump supporters would say that this is all true. The book, however, just tells one part of the story, omitting how many children were frightened because of his promises to get rid of people of color (aka threats) and the hostile language that he used for everyone except white people. At least 1,000 people wrote Scholastic with their outrage about the book’s propaganda.

Scholastic responded to the negative comments by claiming “that discussing controversial aspects of any public figure’s life isn’t appropriate for our youngest readers” and that the True Books biography for older readers would “delve deeper into the controversial aspects of the Trump campaign and presidency” in their True Books biography of Trump for readers in grades 3-5. Scholastic failed in its promise to “delve deeper,” and they are wrong that Trump’s white supremacist statements aren’t “appropriate for our youngest readers.” Many children suffer from Trump’s push toward white supremacist because bullies—even ages 6 and 7—who listen to him.

The book failed to address how builders working for Trump being unfairly treated or how Trump discriminated against people of color who wanted to live in his buildings. Scholastic got around this by not mentioning people of color at all. Forty percent of people in the U.S. were ignored. The statement that “many people were happy” about the election silenced the dissent and resistance regarding the election except for one picture. Avoiding the hard issues about race—that most children of color know—supports the dominance of the ruling (aka white) class.

Kathleen Nganga and Sarah Cornelius wrote this review about the “True Biographies” version of Trump:

“The book dedicates 10 glowing pages to Trump’s business career, high rises, and casinos, but does not include a single detail about housing discrimination claims, his unfulfilled business contracts, and customer grievances such as the lawsuits against Trump University. In fact, the one time the book mentions Trump’s bankruptcies and alludes to organizational troubles, the book removes all responsibility from Trump by solely attributing these problems to the ‘weakened’ real estate market.

“There is a page dedicated to New York City’s Central Park where Trump is credited with rebuilding the Wollman ice-skating rink in 1986. No mention is made of another Central Park story, Trump’s crusade against the Central Park Five (all teenagers at the time), including spending $85,000 for full page ads in all four New York daily newspapers in 1989 calling for a reinstatement of the death penalty. This is a crucial story for understanding Trump’s use of racism and law and order rhetoric to garner support. There is also no mention of Trump’s lead role in the Birther Movement (questioning President Obama’s legitimacy as an American citizen). Both of these stories are relevant to his biography since they contributed to his base and eventual election as president. By dedicating most of the book to Trump’s fancy buildings and T.V. shows, the implication is that his business experience and stardom led to his election. While there are a couple of references to prejudice and discrimination, racism is not mentioned once.

“Regarding the election, Mattern writes: ‘[Trump] had no political experience. He had never held a public office or taken part in political activities. For this reason, some people thought he was not qualified to be president. Others loved the idea of an outsider coming in to shake up the way the government was run.’ In contrast, after detailing Hillary Clinton’s professional experiences the author states, ‘… many people did not like Clinton. They felt she was not trustworthy and would not bring enough changes to the government.’ While the book qualifies that “some people” were dissatisfied with Trump, dissatisfaction with Clinton is qualified with “many people.” This juxtaposition suggests that most people found Trump qualified and trustworthy….

“There is only one page dedicated to Trump’s campaign statements. It begins, ‘Trump made several statements during his campaign that were concerning to some people.’ That is an understatement. People were not only concerned, they were also demeaned, insulted, and threatened by these comments. It says, “For example, he promised to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants.” There is no reference to the language he used to describe women, Mexican immigrants, POWs, Muslims, people with disabilities, and more.

“This is also the only place in the 45-page book in which people of color are featured, and they are protesting. While protest imagery conveys important ideas of non-electoral forms of democratic engagement, it is significant that the book’s only visual reference of people of color is one of them engaging in disruptive protests and surrounded by police….”

Scholastic may have muzzled Mattern in the book’s content. An earlier draft of the Scholastic book indicates its “changes” in the final edition. In a prepub draft, a page called “Troubling Statements read:

“Some of Trump’s biggest supporters were white nationalists. Their comments and actions during and after the campaign were racist and often dangerous. Trump did little to speak against them.”

In the finished book, the heading was changed to “Campaign Statements,” and the text read, “Some of Trump’s critics felt he did not speak out against prejudicial people and groups strongly enough.”

Penguin Young Readers has chosen to not publish any books about Trump at this time, and even conservative Regnery, which published the Pence picture book about the family’s pet rabbit has no plans for a young readers’ biography of Trump. In an update about First Ladies, Kathleen Krull found little information other than she was the third wife, a supermodel, and the wealthiest.

An example of using “bare facts” methodology that Scholastic used in its two children’s books about Trump:

“Hitler was a powerful leader. He promised to lead the German people out of their economic depression. He particularly wanted to help Aryan citizens. Many people were happy with his leadership style.”

The best advice for publishers, to paraphrase an old saying, might be: “If you can’t say anything accurate, don’t say anything at all.”

Scholastic has misled children in other books. Hurricane Harvey’s devastation of Houston made no mention of climate change, and Scholastic partnered with the American Coal Federation to distribute educational materials about the benefits of coal with no reference to the dangers. Scholastic finally pulled A Birthday Cake for George Washington after complaints about the happy depictions of his slaves.

People are growing more and more upset about the poor education in the United States. You can protest a major publisher for its misrepresentation that helps children grow up ignorant. Created almost 100 years ago, the huge publishing conglomerate of Scholastic wields great power over education for children in the U.S. The company needs to hear from people regarding this practice of promoting inaccuracies in educational materials that purport to be nonfiction.  You can contact them here. They need to know that you care about children.

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