If you’ve been following the culture wars recently, you know Florida is a real hotbed. It seems that Florida and Texas are in a perennial race to the bottom sometimes. With Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that just passed and its abysmal record on COVID-19 it seemed like it would be difficult for the state to get more absurd or to tarnish its reputation any further. But the last two weeks have proven us all wrong.
Florida is in a war with Disney and is trying to radically re-district – all with blatantly political aims.
And in a move that has amused and concerned everybody, Florida has managed to attack math for being too woke for Floridian kids.
According to Ana Goni-Lessan,
Historically, when Florida school districts reevaluate which math instructional materials they will use, they have had more than one publisher to choose from.
Now, the only publisher approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education for K-5 mathematics is Accelerate Learning, a company out of Houston, Texas.
“In the subject area as large as mathematics for grades K through five, it is unusual for there only to be one publisher to choose from,” said Billy Epting, assistant superintendent for academic services for Leon County Schools.
The Florida DOE rejected more than 50 mathematics textbooks — about 40% of those submitted — for failing to meet Florida’s new learning standards or because they “contained prohibited topics” that included references to critical race theory.
Thomas C. Tobin explains,
Republican leaders said the books either failed to meet Florida’s new standards or contained references to “unsolicited strategies” like social-emotional learning or “prohibited topics” like critical race theory. Social-emotional learning refers to strategies for teaching students how to manage their emotions, develop empathy, solve problems and make decisions.
I think we should all be a bit concerned that Floridian politicians take umbrage at teaching kids to manage their emotions and develop empathy. It’s like they are specifically trying to create mean people.
Some people think that is fake news. There are some that theorize this is all political theater.
After the story broke there was a kind of radio silence from Florida. They announced they had rejected books, but then didn’t say which books. Then last Thursday they provided a list of books they had rejected but provided no examples or evidence that these books contained any offending material. Some corners of the internet hypothesized that there IS no offending material. That Florida is just saying they are rejecting these books so they can say, “Look, CRT and this emotional liberal hogwash is EVERYWHERE. PROTECT THE CHILDREN!”
There’s a lot to unpack, here.
First, what is taught in the vast majority of K-12 schools isn’t CRT. CRT is a theory that is taught largely in law schools and in some high level college courses and grad classes. We’ve discussed it before. Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is an academic discipline composed of scholars in the United States who have examined how supposedly colorblind laws may enforce systemic racism, and how transforming the relationship between law and racial power can achieve social justice. Critical Race Theory examines how the law and institutions intersect with issues of race, and challenges mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice. It took root in the 1970s as an offshoot of critical theory and had emerged as an academic movement in the 1980s as a rebrand of Critical Legal Studies. Both CRT and CLS are rooted in critical theory, which argues that social problems are influenced and created more by societal structures and cultural assumptions than by individual and psychological factors. Critical Race Theory argues that racism is systemic and institutional, rather than just a collection of individual actions or ideas. It also views race as a socially constructed identity. It’s important to understand that CRT came out of legal studies. There is a focus on systems and institutions. CRT does not argue that a person did a racist thing, but that racism is part of the system. Intersectionality – which emphasizes that race can intersect with other identities (such as gender and class) to produce complex combinations of power and disadvantage – is a key concept in Critical Race Theory.
What is taught in grade schools isn’t CRT. Grade school kids aren’t getting lessons in systems of power and intersecting identities. It’s Black history. Or history that has anybody who isn’t white in it. Or diverse literature. For the most part it has nothing to do with CRT. This material just has the audacity to acknowledge the humanity of people who aren’t white. And that is an affront to the people of Florida, it would seem.
So what is so scary about history that isn’t about white people? Or literature that deals with issues that concern people who aren’t white?
Floridians are terrified their kids are going to hear things like the truth about Christopher Columbus.
Columbus enslaved native people and treated them with extreme violence and brutality.
He was a profiteer who forced natives into physical labor. He sent thousands of indigenous people to Spain to be sold, and many of them died during the journey. The natives who weren’t sold into slavery were forced to look for gold in mines and work on plantations.
While he was governor of what eventually became the Dominican Republic, he killed countless natives in response to a revolt. To prevent further rebellion, he would have the dead bodies paraded through the streets.
The native population wasn’t immune to diseases such as smallpox, measles, and influenza, which were brought to their island of Hispaniola by Columbus and his men. In 1492, there were an estimated 250,000 indigenous people in Hispaniola, but by 1517, there were less than 15,000.
Some historians believe the impact of European and African settlers in the New World possibly killed as much as 90% of the native populations and was deadlier than the Black Death was in medieval Europe.
Or, God forbid, they’ll learn about Japanese internment camps.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor the U.S. suspected that Japanese Americans might act as saboteurs or espionage agents.
John J. McCloy, the assistant secretary of war, remarked that if it came to a choice between national security rights guaranteed in the Constitution, the Constitution was “just a scrap of paper.”
In early February 1942, the War Department created 12 restricted zones along the Pacific coast and established nighttime curfews for Japanese Americans. Those who broke curfew were immediately arrested. On February 19, 1942, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave the U.S. military authority to exclude any persons from designated areas. Although the word Japanese did not appear in the executive order, it was clear that only Japanese Americans were targeted. On March 18, 1942, the federal War Relocation Authority (WRA) was established. Its mission was to “take all people of Japanese descent into custody, surround them with troops, prevent them from buying land, and return them to their former homes at the close of the war.”
On March 31, 1942, Japanese Americans along the West Coast were ordered to report to control stations and register the names of all family members. They were then told when and where they should report for removal to an internment camp. Japanese Americans were given from four days to about two weeks to settle their affairs and gather as many belongings as they could carry. In many cases, individuals and families were forced to sell some or all of their property, including businesses, within that period of time.
If kids learn about things like Columbus and Japanese internment camps, what chaos comes next? Questioning the unassailable authority of the U.S. government? Coming to the conclusion that people of European descent have made mistakes? Believing that history is complex and that it is often difficult to say who the good guys and bad guys were?
Well, you can see how DANGEROUS these things would be.
Worse than learning about people of other races and ethnicities, children might learn to develop empathy for other people. Horror of horrors. And we know how Florida feels about empathy.
This is about maintaining power. They are hoping if they keep people ignorant, they can maintain power. People who question narratives question authority. And Florida is willing to do anything to keep people from questioning authority. It’s kind of what authoritarians do. So they are trying to control information.
Controlling information is a means of controlling people.
In George Orwell’s classic 1984, Big Brother kept tight control on what information people had access to. Because Big Brother knew if you could control what people knew, you could control the people.
In the lesser known, but wildly entertaining Bartimaeus Trilogy, the ruling class, the magicians, tightly controlled what was taught as history because they knew that whoever controlled the narrative of history controlled the present.
And in the perennial classic Fahrenheit 451, the firemen’s job is to burn books in order to keep them out of the hands of regular people, because if regular people have access to information regular people become dangerous.
All three of these books, I might add, share the dubious honor of being banned books.
But what could a math book have done to have offended Floridian sensibilities?
Did these textbooks use “Black” sounding names? Did they have people buying and selling Mexican or Cuban food to help kids understand money?
If that’s all it takes then we aren’t talking about CRT, we’re talking about the complete erasure of anyone who isn’t white. And that’s literally white supremacy. If Florida’s goal is to completely erase any sign of non-white people, then Florida is marching down a short road to some very scary places that history has shown us to be violent and evil.
But as the story grows and we learn more about Florida’s motivations, it seems that their reasons for banning the textbooks may be more convoluted than just CRT. CRT may be the end goal, but that may not be the immediate reason.
The New York Times did some research into 21 of the textbooks Florida banned and found that the common factor wasn’t necessarily CRT, but SEL. Social Emotional Learning.
Dana Goldstein and Stephanie Saul write,
Until recently, the idea of building social-emotional skills was a fairly uncontroversial one in American education. Research suggests that students with these skills earn higher test scores.
But right-wing activists like Chris Rufo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, have sought to tie social-emotional learning to the broader debate over the teaching of race, gender and sexuality in classrooms.
In a March interview conducted over email, Mr. Rufo stated that while social-emotional learning sounds “positive and uncontroversial” in theory, “in practice, SEL serves as a delivery mechanism for radical pedagogies such as critical race theory and gender deconstructionism.”
“The intention of SEL,” he continued, “is to soften children at an emotional level, reinterpret their normative behavior as an expression of ‘repression,’ ‘whiteness,’ or ‘internalized racism,’ and then rewire their behavior according to the dictates of left-wing ideology.”
Mr. Rufo also raised concerns that social-emotional learning requires teachers “to serve as psychologists, which they are not equipped to do.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has spoken more generally about social-emotional learning as a distraction, in his view, from math itself.
“Math is about getting the right answer,” he said at a Monday news conference, adding, “It’s not about how you feel about the problem.”
Some of the theories linked to social-emotional learning have permeated deep into popular culture and the business world. Among the most popular are the concept of a “growth mind-set,” developed by Carol Dweck of Stanford, and the closely related idea of “grit,” developed by Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania.
These theories have at times attracted more critique from the left than from the right. Some educators worried that the field of social-emotional learning celebrated behaviors associated with white, upper-middle-class culture, and paid too little attention to the kind of grit it takes to grow up in poverty, for example, or to overcome barriers of race, language and class that can make it more difficult for many students to persevere academically.
Conservative education experts, on the other hand, often lauded efforts to teach “character,” a concept that overlaps significantly with social-emotional learning.
The textbooks that Florida rejected are filled with references to character traits like perseverance and cooperation. A first-grade textbook from the publisher Savvas Learning Company, formerly known as Pearson K12 Learning, repeatedly refers to the importance of “effortful learning,” “learning together” and having a “growth mind-set.”
Aren’t we SUPPOSED to be teaching our kids to have a growth mind-set? According to Jennifer Smith,
A growth mindset means that you believe your intelligence and talents can be developed over time. A fixed mindset means that you believe intelligence is fixed—so if you’re not good at something, you might believe you’ll never be good at it.
In order to thrive and problem-solve kids need to believe they can get better and figure things out. That they can puzzle through a problem and become stronger. But DeSantis and his crew apparently want kids taught there is one answer and if you don’t get it that’s the end of it. How disheartening and disempowering is that? What will that do to the spirit and confidence of little Floridians?
Not to mention the disadvantage this puts Florida students at when they enter the workplace. If you ask employers what skills they are looking for, the top of the list is so often those soft skills that seem to elude all too many applicants. Things like communication, problem-solving, and teamwork. These are the things you learn through a combination of social emotional learning and the liberal arts.
So it would seem that the issue may not even be CRT, but may be that these books help in the emotional development of children. So I guess we have to ask what danger an emotionally developed and stable child poses to the state of Florida.
But all snark aside, many conservative activists have wrapped up the debate about CRT with SEL. The reasoning seems to be that too much social emotional learning leads to critical race theory. But just think about that argument for a moment – developing too much empathy leads people to think critically about race. And they are fighting against that. Talk about saying the quiet part out loud.
So I guess it is more comfortable to think FL is lying. I would rather believe Florida is lying about math textbooks than actually believe they are censoring math books that mention race or teach kids how to manage their emotions or have empathy for one another. The latter is just too terrifying.
But we have to ask ourselves, what kind of world are Florida students growing up in? What sort of shock will they be in for when they reach college? They can’t be shielded from non-white people forever. They can’t be taught to be soulless automatons. And if they haven’t learned to learn – if they haven’t learn to figure things out and to keep trying – that you get better at things as you puzzle through them – then it’s not just college that will be a slap in the face, but all of life afterward. This is setting kids up for all kinds of failure.
How long before college admission boards start looking askance at applicants from Florida? Will top performing students from Florida ever have a chance to make it into prestigious schools, or is Florida hobbling their best and their brightest? Colleges look at the caliber of education a student has coming in and university preparedness. Colleges look at character.
What is going on in Florida is nothing short of white supremacy in action. And we can’t just blow it off as “Florida gonna Florida,” because it is happening all around us. This is a nationwide movement. Just because other states haven’t attacked math books doesn’t mean that other subjects, like history and literature aren’t under attack. We have seen the evidence of that in school board meeting after school board meeting. And as writers like Orwell, Stroud, and Bradbury have been warning us for quite some time, when things like history and literature are under attack, everything is.
Music in this episode is “Fearless First” by Kevin MacLeod at https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3742-fearless-first.