Pearson, one of the country’s leading publishers of textbooks, assessments, and other instructional materials, has refocused its curriculum development away from academic learning practices in pursuit of political narratives, gender theory, anti-racism, and progressive activism. Pearson’s 2021 update of their “Global Content & Editorial Policy for Business Partners” contains numerous references to gender theory, “anti-racism,” and global-focused educational initiatives. The document notes that as early as “August of 2020 Pearson promised that all our products and services will incorporate anti-racist principles,” and that any and all educational content would “[reflect] an evolution toward anti-racism and social justice.”
After observation of curriculum samples, though, it is clear Pearson’s hyper-progressive activism began much earlier than 2020. In 2019, Florida flagged multiple Pearson mathematics textbooks as including social justice content. One high school math book in particular received notable criticism. “Narratives within book contain topics that are neither age appropriate nor engaging to students,” the book’s state-appointed reviewer said. “Examples are alcohol use, divorce, marijuana, illegal activities, gender bias, racial prejudice, etc.”
The New York Post quoted the reviewer as lamenting that “rather than limit prose to the instruction of math, ‘the author pushes certain social issues as normal such as marijuana use, illegal drugs, implying that everyone is implicitly racist, jokes about marriage and divorce, and the white population decreasing.’” The textbooks were later reintroduced after they were scrubbed of any social justice content.
In addition, parents in Paradise Valley, Arizona were outraged after a different Pearson Pre-Calculus textbook depicted a graph measuring racial prejudice by political ideology (the graph depicted conservatives as being very racially prejudiced). “We as parents need to focus on having parental representation on our school boards that put kids’ interests above these political agendas,” said Kerwin Franklin, who has five sons in the district. She also expressed concern about Pearson’s role in propagating social-emotional learning.
The 2021 update is much more specific about Pearson’s ideological commitments: “We strive to ensure that our content represents the rich diversity of our global audience and that this representation is anti-racist and anti-bias, and promotes social equity and justice,” the guide says. “We also endeavor to provide equitable access to our products and services for diverse learning needs to support the full participation of all our learners.”
The guide adds that the policy is intended to “develop a critical content community that takes an active role in contributing to our commitment to anti-racism and social equity.”
“We go beyond representation and strive to practice principles of social equity. Within this, we intend to create products and services that impact learners’ engagement with social justice. Whatever we produce should be accessible to all,” Pearson elaborates. “We aim to enable every person to achieve their potential, reflecting and meeting the needs of the diverse groups we serve. We also recognize that people have membership in multiple and intersecting groups [intersectionality] and that new forms of exclusion will prompt renewed attention. This document outlines how our aspirational aims for our content and practices will help enable key outcomes for learners that promote social equity.”
Intersectionality, as Pearson cites the term, was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, also credited as a pioneering scholar of critical race theory’s implementation in K-12 education. It seeks to “broaden feminism’s definition and scope” with respect to how “forms of oppression and privilege, race, class, gender, and sexuality “intersect” in people’s individual lives.”
Additional topics subject to these guidelines include “abortion and contraception,” “sex and gender equality, equity, identity and expression,” “sexuality and sexual or romantic orientation,” and “sustainability, including environmental sustainability, particularly climate change.” The result, Pearson hopes, is “a critical content community that takes an active role in contributing to [their] commitment to anti-racism and social equity.”
“Bias,” in Pearson’s eyes, appears to have a direct connection to conceptions of systemic racism. “Pearson is dedicated to fighting systemic racism and creating bias-free content that reflects the diversity of all learners,” the publisher’s Report Potential Bias page says. “While we work hard to present unbiased content, we want to hear from students and educators who have concerns about Pearson material so we can investigate and fix potential problems.”
While Pearson began selling one of their American K-12 publishing arms in 2018, millions of American students continue to use their products and services. Another 10 million students use Pearson products in universities around the country. Pearson makes hundreds of millions of dollars in operating profits annually, much of it government subsidized (state and federal) and the company is expected to grow by as much as 33% in 2022.
The Pearson EdTPA, a capstone project required for teacher licensure, is required in 16 states, and a subsidized option in 38 states.