Flip through the textbooks used by every Palm Beach County Algebra I student and take a look at the faces in the pictures.
Forest Hill High School resource teacher Karen Cook did that. What she found among the lessons on graphing linear equations and calculating slope was what she calls a hidden curriculum.
Most of the photos were of white men or women. And when a black man was shown, chances are he was throwing a football or swinging a golf club instead of sitting behind a desk.
The images or lack thereof send a subliminal message to students, said Cook, who reviewed district-approved Algebra I texts as part of her doctoral study at Florida Atlantic University.
“Our textbooks are basically the window to our society in that classroom,” she said. “If our textbooks are not reflecting opportunity and diversity in society, then I wonder how it’s affecting our students and how they perceive our society.”
Cook took on the textbook study last year as a project for a six-week summer course called race, class and gender issues in education. Her results were based on a small sample, the two district-approved Algebra I books. She chose math books because previous research on racial representation focused primarily on social science textbooks. She zeroed in on Algebra I because it is a required course for Palm Beach County students.
A casual leafing through either book likely won’t spark any calls of injustice. But in a school district where only 35 percent of students classify themselves as white, most Palm Beach County students would find relatively few faces resembling their own.
“It isn’t really blatant until you sit down and take a look at it,” Cook said.
A page on the Census in the McGraw-Hill book contains an array of photos of people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. It includes photos of a black pilot and a black teacher.
But there is also a heavy dose of minority sports figures. Golfer Tiger Woods, baseball player Alex Rodriguez, basketball player Kobe Bryant and Miami Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper are featured.
Cook hopes to expand her study of textbooks to other subjects. “This is just meant to (start) a discussion,” she said.