As submitted to Texas for adoption in 2002, McGraw-Hill's "The American Republic Since 1877" included a profile and photo of Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman pilot. But there was no mention or image of aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright. After a Texas activist who advocates for more patriotic textbooks complained, McGraw-Hill added a passage and photo about the Wrights. A company spokeswoman said the brothers had been left out inadvertently.
However, the rules also creep down to seemingly innocuous stuff like who appears in the concept (or filler, depending on how you look at it) illustrations in math and spelling books. McGraw-Hill apparently mandated that only 40% of people appearing in textbook illustrations be white. 20% should be African American. 30% Hispanic. 7% Asian. 3% American Indian. And 5% should be disabled.
Of course people with actual disabilities are difficult to get up to a photo studio to run through exercises in a mock classroom, so the textbooks apparently often fill in by putting able-bodied kids into wheelchairs or on crutches in order to meet quota. I have no idea what the figures are on this, but what percentage of those under 18 who are 'disabled' suffer from a malady which results in appearing exactly like a healthy kid, but being confined to a wheelchair? I'm thinking it's low. But then, I guess a wheelchair is a very easy disability to portray photographically.
Another whole set of guidelines regards avoiding stereotypes:
McGraw-Hill's 2004 guidelines for artwork and photos say Asians should not be portrayed "with glasses, bowl-shaped haircuts, or as intellectuals"; African-Americans should be shown "in positions of power, not just in service industries"; elderly people should be "active members of society," not "infirm"; and disabled people should be shown as independent rather than receiving help.
An older McGraw-Hill manual -- which a company spokeswoman says is "still relevant" as guidance -- discourages depicting Asian-American males as waiters, laundry owners or math students, or showing Mexican men wearing ponchos or wide-brimmed hats. African-Americans should not be portrayed in "crowded tenements on chaotic streets" or in "innocuous, dull, white picket fence neighborhoods," but in "all neighborhoods, including luxury apartments."
For a spread on world cultures, one major publisher vetoed a photo of a barefoot child in an African village, on the grounds that the lack of footwear reinforced the stereotype of poverty on that continent, according to an employee familiar with the situation. It was replaced with a photo of a West African girl wearing shoes and a gingham dress.
Well shoot, we wouldn't want to give a bunch of kids the idea that there's poverty in Africa, now would we.... And is it really going to cause massive trauma to Asian children if they see Asians portrayed as intellectuals?
Of course, the key sin of most of these mainstream textbooks is that they are committee written monstrosities with no character, no clear narrative and a disorganized hodge-podge of often irrelevant information provided by means of sidebars, highlights, examples and such forth, which actually take up most of the book rather than providing occasional diversions from the main text. But I can't think that all this helps any either.
As Steven Riddle points out in the comments, this foolishness on the part of the textbook publishers clearly doesn't come out of a vacuum. Although states do not officially have quotas, the people in charge of making textbook decisions for large states like Florida, Texas and California have criteria that include "images which reflect a diverse student body" and "breaking down stereotypes". The textbook companies (who know that the majority of their profits rely on pleasing these officials) simply set up quotas as a way of making sure that they always go 'above and beyond' in meeting these goals.
If there's any doubt they're just jumping through hoops, one of the things mentioned in the article was that 'diverse' images were far more often on the right hand page, because hurried state examiners often just flip through the pages to get a gernal impression, and thus only see the right hand pages.