In announcing that 41% of proposed textbooks would not be approved by the Florida Board of Education for classroom use, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran and his staff successfully managed to incorporate three of the biggest hot button issues in education right now: critical race theory, the common core, and social-emotional learning.
The board rejected a record 54 out of 132 textbooks, with a higher number of rejected books marketed for use in grades K-5. A full 71% of textbooks for elementary grades were rejected. It’s the most rejected books in the state’s history.
“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,” Florida governor Ron DeSantis said in a statement.
According to the same press release, 28 of the textbooks were not approved because “they incorporate prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies, including CRT.”
Critical Race Theory (CRT), a term originally coined by legal scholars, means recognizing the ways racism has manifested throughout history and its continued impact on today’s institutions. It sees racism as systemic and current, not an isolated incident relegated to the past. Conservatives have successfully re-appropriated the term to mean any discussion about the existence of racism, or even bringing up the subject of race. Central to their argument is the idea that it will be upsetting for white children to learn about the racist actions of their ancestors. Of course, conservatives like DeSantis don’t mention how Black children and children of Color might feel.
In June, the Florida Board of Education adopted an amendment that bans schools from teaching CRT, which it defines as “the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.”
The amendment calls out the 1619 Project, a Pulitzer prize-winning collection of writings that re-frame history by centering Black Americans, as precisely the type of curriculum that it bans, and specifies that course material “may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
In other words, you can teach that the Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal,” but not point out that this was understood to exclude non-white men.
How the Board of Education saw these concepts in math books is very unclear, and no examples have been offered by those rejecting the books.
There are a number of thoughtful ways that a math teacher might incorporate critical thinking about society’s racism into course work: the history of red-lining housing districts and the impact families’ wealth, or the breakdown of Covid statistics by race and a discussion of why some groups of people have been more impacted. The sort of teaching that makes a dry subject like math meaningful and relevant for students — and shows how math can work in tandem with other areas of study, including science, history, and social studies.
But none of this type of teaching will be happening in Florida. Those of us who reside outside the sunshine state may be tempted to turn our noses and continue on our more-enlightened way, but unfortunately, what happens in Florida’s textbooks doesn’t just stay there. Textbooks are often sold nationally and are expensive to produce. Publishers are not interested in creating different versions of each textbook for each state, so whatever restrictions that states with large populations decide to put in place may be reflected in textbooks used across the country.