Journalists got their hands on 8 of the 26 math books banned by Ron DeSantis and Florida Republicans, and tried to puzzle out what was offensive about them. It’s a revealing exercise.
On April 15, the Florida Department of Education issued a dramatic press release: “Florida Rejects Publishers’ Attempts to Indoctrinate Students.” In the release, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran announced that he had rejected 54 math textbooks submitted by publishers for the next school year. According to the Florida Department of Education, 26 of those math textbooks were rejected because they contained “prohibited topics,” including Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).
To underscore the importance of this decision, the release contained a quote from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R). “It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students,” DeSantis said. Corcoran said the math textbooks were rejected because children deserve “a world-class education without the fear of indoctrination or exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts in our classrooms.”
OK, that’s a good hint. Their goal is to expunge any trace of CRT, SEL, and Common Core, so we should see what pieces of those concepts are in any of these books. I can pretty much guarantee, sight unseen, that CRT isn’t going to be present — that’s a legal concept that you might get taught in law school, but it’s not going to be anywhere in primary school texts, and especially not in math books. As the analysis reveals, though, the Republican clown show doesn’t know what CRT is, and confuses it with any mention of race or SEL. But what is SEL?
In a press conference on Monday, DeSantis defended the decision, focusing on SEL. Right-wing activists claim that SEL is CRT by another name but that is inaccurate. SEL focuses on the development of “critical thinking, emotion management, conflict resolution, decision making, [and] teamwork” — skills that are necessary for students to excel in school and in life. The term dates back to a 1997 book but the concept of character development dates back at least to Benjamin Franklin in the mid-1700s.
“You know, math is about getting the right answer and we want kids to learn to think so they get the right answer. It’s not about how you feel about the problem or to introduce some of these other things,” DeSantis said. DeSantis noted that “most of the books that did not meet Florida standards… happened to be in the early grades.”
Oh, gosh, we do SEL all the time then. For example, all of my lab classes require students to work in groups, because that’s how science is done, so get started on that cooperative teamwork right now, and learning how to work together efficiently and effectively is as important as learning how to measure yeast respiration. Probably more important — some of the experiments we have them do are rather basic, but learning to work in groups and use core instrumentation and do reasonable analysis are the goal. I guess I’d be banned in Florida, along with all of my colleagues in biology.
And no, math isn’t about just getting the right answer. I do some basic math work in my classes — much of it is more statistics than anything else — but there’s a reason I demand intermediate answers in their calculations. It’s because understanding the process is more important than just plugging and chugging and seeing the “right” number appear on your calculator.
Well, then, maybe the Florida textbooks were laced with discussions of race and gender. Nope.
According to the Florida Department of Education, “the highest number of books rejected were for grade levels K-5, where an alarming 71 percent were not appropriately aligned with Florida standards or included prohibited topics and unsolicited strategies.” Popular Information obtained three of the K-5 books that were rejected for “prohibited topics.”
There was no discussion of race, racism, or anything that could be construed as related to CRT in any of the textbooks. While the vast majority of the textbooks focused on basic math skills, they also encouraged students to reflect on how they learn and work with their classmates. In general, the textbooks encouraged young students to be nice to each other and themselves.
This could be considered SEL, which focuses on “social and emotional competence” and helping “children develop emotional literacy when it comes to their feelings and other people’s.” But nothing in any of the rejected textbooks could be described in good faith as “dangerous” or “indoctrination.”
Damn. Now I understand — teaching kids to be nice to each other is antithetical to raising them as Republicans. Better ban them!
Some of them do mention race, though.
The textbook also includes short write-ups of mathematicians from throughout history. Two write-ups spotlight African American mathematicians––Elbert Frank Cox, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics, and Dorothy Johnson Vaughan, an African American mathematician who led a NASA unit.
But there are also several other short historical summaries of mathematicians from different backgrounds, including James Garfield and Liu Hui.
Regardless, these historical vignettes are not an example of CRT. Nor do these brief biographies constitute “race essentialism.” Rather, this content is consistent with Florida Department of Education’s “multicultural representation” requirement for all 2021-2022 instructional materials in K-12 mathematics.
Learning about famous mathematicians is not a form of indoctrination.
I don’t know about that. If they learned what a colossal, freaky asshole Isaac Newton was, and that he was white, they might get the idea that being a white physicist/mathematician was a wicked thing.
Kids are also not allowed to learn that the mundane subjects of story problems might be black or Asian.
Florida’s decision to reject several high school math textbooks is especially puzzling. Popular Information obtained a digital copy of Functions Modeling Change, one of five precalculus books that were rejected by Florida for the inclusion of prohibited topics.
Functions Modeling Change contains 10 mentions of “race” but all are related to running and biking. There is no discussion of racism and no math problems that deal with racial issues. There is also no discussion of emotions, teamwork, conflict resolution, or anything else associated with SEL. Instead, it is full of quadratic functions, trigonometry, and parametric equations. Another rejected precalculus book, Precalculus with Limits, has very similar content. So why were these textbooks rejected?
Good question. I still don’t know. Could it be Common Core?
It is impossible to know for sure absent an explanation from the Florida Department of Education, but the initial press release delineated three categories of “prohibited” topics: CRT, SEL, and Common Core. DeSantis has made a priority of “eliminating” Common Core from the curriculum. Common Core is a set of national standards championed by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) and many other Republicans. Since Common Core was also embraced by former President Obama (D), it has become a target for DeSantis.
But Common Core’s math standards are just a set of basic skills needed at each grade level. It is impossible to “eliminate” Common Core because many of those skills are foundational. For example, the Common Core standards for 1st Grade math include the ability to count to 120. One cannot eliminate counting from the math curriculum. Florida’s B.E.S.T. standards, which DeSantis created to replace Common Core, also include the ability to count to 120 as a core standard for 1st Grade.
Learning to count could lead to accounting, which would detect Republican corruption, or accountability, another concept that is anathema to Republicans.
I think the answer is simple. Stupid people hate math. Stupid people are the Republican core demographic. This is just pandering to their electorate. There is no rational reason behind DeSantis’s politics, it’s all a reactionary lashing out against knowledge & learning & science.