The Florida Department of Education has shared a press release announcing that 41% of the math textbooks submitted for review to be used in Florida schools have been rejected, either for not meeting the new B.E.S.T. standards or for including “prohibited topics,” such as Critical Race Theory and Social Emotional Learning. 21% of the textbooks were not included because “they incorporate prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies, including CRT.”
Governor Ron DeSantis said that publishers are “indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students. I’m grateful that Commissioner Corcoran and his team at the Department have conducted such a thorough vetting of these textbooks to ensure they comply with the law.”
Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran claims that “Florida has become a national leader in education under the vision and leadership of Governor DeSantis. When it comes to education, other states continue to follow Florida’s lead as we continue to reinforce parents’ rights by focusing on providing their children with a world-class education without the fear of indoctrination or exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts in our classrooms.”
The press release does not include any information about how Critical Race Theory or Social Emotional Learning were supposedly included in these textbooks. CRT is a theory that provides a framework for critiquing the legal system, but the term has been used recently by right-wing politicians and pundits to apply to anything that acknowledges racism exists or has ever existed in the United States. Social Emotional Learning is a teaching technique that helps students learn how to identify and handle their emotions.
The biggest question to come out of this news is how these concepts are supposedly shown in these math textbooks. Is a word problem about sharing considered Social Emotional Learning? Is including a Chinese name in a word problem Critical Race Theory? It seems unlikely that math textbooks are including much about either of these concepts.
In 2020, I graduated from a teaching program in British Columbia, Canada, and we spent many classes discussing how to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into our curricula, including math. There are several guides available online for BC math teachers to teach their subject in a culturally informed way. Like Florida, BC claims to “lead the world” in education, though obviously they come from very different directions in this.
At a time when many states (and countries) are trying to incorporate trauma-informed and antiracist approaches when teaching, this strategy demonstrates a big step backwards for Florida. It’s hard to imagine many parents genuinely protesting kindergarteners learning in school how to healthily manage their emotions — even if it’s somehow skillfully woven into a math lesson — but that’s exactly what these standards proudly forbid.
Without any examples of what sort of content was seen as violating Florida’s education standards, it’s hard to know what exactly they’re keeping out of math classrooms, but it’s hard to believe that 71% of K-5 math textbooks are “indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism,” as DeSantis claims. This only limits the resources that teachers — already over-stretched and leaving the profession in “droves” — have access to.