Florida rejects math textbooks for covering ‘prohibited subjects’

In its latest attempt at setting policy 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 Friday that Richard Corcoran, the outgoing commissioner of education, approved an initial adoption list of instructional materials for math, but 41 percent of the submitted textbooks were rejected — most of them in elementary 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 (CRT), inclusions of Common Core, and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) 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 Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was quoted as saying in the announcement.

Critical race theory is an academic concept centered 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 Black people — 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 taught directly in K-12 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.

Conservative activists have also targeted social emotional learning programs — which are aimed at helping students deal with social and emotional issues that can affect their academic performance — by saying they, too, are promoting critical race theory.

Critics immediately attacked the rejection. State Rep. Carlos G. Smith, a Democrat , 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,” state Sen. Shevrin D. “Shev” Jones, another Democrat , 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 kindergarten 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 labor practices of private companies by restricting how they can promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

Florida’s education department also mentioned that some of the textbooks were linked to Common Core, a reference to the Common Core State Standards that Florida and most other states adopted more than a dozen years ago. The standards have since been replaced in a number of states, including Florida, which has seen a succession of different content standards over the past dozen years.

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