By Valerie Strauss and Lindsey Bever
In its latest attempt to be the nation’s leader in restricting what happens in public school classrooms, Florida said it has rejected a pile of math textbooks submitted by publishers in part because they “contained prohibited subjects,” including critical race theory.
The Florida Department of Education announced on Friday (Saturday AEST) that Richard Corcoran, the outgoing commissioner of education, approved an initial list of instructional materials for maths, but 41 percent of the submitted textbooks were rejected – most of them in primary school.
Some were said not to be aligned with Florida’s content standards, called the Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking, or BEST. But others, the department said, were rejected for the subject matter.
“Reasons for rejecting textbooks included references to Critical Race Theory, inclusions of Common Core [previous national education benchmarks], and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning in mathematics,” it said in an announcement on the department’s website.
Although the department described the textbook review process as “transparent,” it did not mention which textbooks had been rejected or cite examples from the offending passages.
“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’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis was quoted as saying in the announcement.
Critical race theory is an academic concept centred around the idea that racism is not simply individual prejudice but that it is systemic, woven into our legal systems. One example of this is when government officials in the 1930s deemed certain areas – often inhabited by African Americans – as bad financial investments, making it hard for them to get mortgage loans and buy their own homes, according to Education Week.
The concept emerged in the 1970s, but the murder of George Floyd in 2020 gave it new life as some schools tried to better address race in the classroom. Although critical race theory is not being directly taught in schools – only used as a foundation for lessons – the theory has been highly contentious, with some contending that students should have a broader understanding of racism in the United States and others arguing that it encourages discrimination by dividing people into two groups: victims and oppressors.
Critics immediately attacked the rejection. Democrat State Representative Carlos Smith tweeted “@EducationFL just announced they’re banning dozens of math textbooks they claim ‘indoctrinate’ students with CRT. They won’t tell us what they are or what they say b/c it’s a lie. #DeSantis has turned our classrooms into political battlefields and this is just the beginning.”
“No, this is not 1963,” Democrat state Senator Shevrin Jones tweeted, “it’s 2022 in the ‘Free State of Florida.’”
DeSantis has been leading the charge in Florida to restrict what teachers can say and discuss in class on topics including race, racism, gender and history. He recently signed legislation that bans classroom discussion on LGBTQ issues from prep through third grade and, for all students, says any such discussion must be “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate”.
Last year, his administration set new rules banning “critical race theory” and DeSantis is expected to soon sign into law the “STOP WOKE ACT” that codifies his executive order but also goes further, affecting not only what happens in schools but also the labour practices of private companies by restricting how they can promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
Critical race theory is an academic framework taught largely in law schools that sets a framework for examining systemic racism. Conservatives have accused state schools of using it – even though they don’t – in an attempt to restrict classroom discussion on the racist history and present of the United States. Now conservative activists have targeted social emotional learning programs – which are aimed at helping students deal with issues that can affect their academic performance – by saying they, too, are promoting critical race theory.
The Washington Post