Inside the "dangerous" math textbooks DeSantis claims would "indoctrinate students"
On April 15, the Florida Department of Education issued a dramatic press release: "Florida Rejects Publishers’ Attempts to Indoctrinate Students." In the release, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran announced that he had rejected 54 math textbooks submitted by publishers for the next school year. According to the Florida Department of Education, 26 of those math textbooks were rejected because they contained "prohibited topics," including Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).
To underscore the importance of this decision, the release contained a quote from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R). “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,” DeSantis said. Corcoran said the math textbooks were rejected because children deserve "a world-class education without the fear of indoctrination or exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts in our classrooms."
In a press conference on Monday, DeSantis defended the decision, focusing on SEL. Right-wing activists claim that SEL is CRT by another name but that is inaccurate. SEL focuses on the development of "critical thinking, emotion management, conflict resolution, decision making, [and] teamwork" — skills that are necessary for students to excel in school and in life. The term dates back to a 1997 book but the concept of character development dates back at least to Benjamin Franklin in the mid-1700s.
"You know, math is about getting the right answer and we want kids to learn to think so they get the right answer. It’s not about how you feel about the problem or to introduce some of these other things," DeSantis said. DeSantis noted that "most of the books that did not meet Florida standards… happened to be in the early grades."
Asked during the press conference what CRT would look like in a math textbook, DeSantis demurred, returning to SEL. "You do have things like social and emotional learning," DeSantis responded, "and some of the things that are more political in there."
But DeSantis' Communications Director, Christina Pushaw, was quite clear that the rejected math textbooks included CRT. She said people are free to "buy any CRT math textbook you want." (These textbooks, Pushaw claimed, teach kids that "2+2=4" is "white supremacy.") Pushaw emphasized that DeSantis would not "force Florida taxpayers to pay for this indoctrination."
CRT is a graduate-level academic framework which explores how "laws, policies, and procedures that function to produce racial inequality." This is sometimes referred to as "structural racism." It is not something you typically find discussed in a K-12 math textbook.
Notably, the Florida Department of Education, Desantis, and Pushaw did not provide any examples of how these math textbooks would indoctrinate Florida students. (The only "example" Pushaw provided was a math worksheet from Missouri that mentioned Maya Angelou.)
Florida eventually released a list of the 26 math textbooks rejected for "prohibited concepts" (the remainder were rejected for other reasons) but there was no information explaining the rejection. DeSantis said that he would not release examples because he respected "the process" and wanted to give publishers the opportunity to appeal. This concern for fairness to the publishers didn't stop DeSantis from issuing a press release accusing all of them of indoctrinating students with race essentialism and other concepts.
DeSantis appears determined to keep the contents of these textbooks secret. Popular Information reached out to the Florida Department of Education and asked for examples of content that caused the textbooks to be rejected. There was no response.
Popular Information, however, has obtained 8 of the 26 math textbooks rejected by Florida for “prohibited topics,” including textbooks for elementary, middle, and high school students. We then scrutinized these textbooks for any mention of race, emotion, or related topics. What we found bears no resemblance to the alarming assertions of Florida officials.
Popular Information is an independent newsletter dedicated to accountability journalism. Sign up (free!) to receive in-depth investigations you won’t find anywhere else.
Telling kids to be nice to their classmates is not indoctrination
According to the Florida Department of Education, “the highest number of books rejected were for grade levels K-5, where an alarming 71 percent were not appropriately aligned with Florida standards or included prohibited topics and unsolicited strategies.” Popular Information obtained three of the K-5 books that were rejected for “prohibited topics.”
There was no discussion of race, racism, or anything that could be construed as related to CRT in any of the textbooks. While the vast majority of the textbooks focused on basic math skills, they also encouraged students to reflect on how they learn and work with their classmates. In general, the textbooks encouraged young students to be nice to each other and themselves.
This could be considered SEL, which focuses on "social and emotional competence" and helping “children develop emotional literacy when it comes to their feelings and other people’s.” But nothing in any of the rejected textbooks could be described in good faith as "dangerous" or "indoctrination."
One rejected textbook, Florida Reveal Math Grade 1, includes a series of questions under the heading “Math is… Mindset.” These questions include: “How can you show that you value the ideas of others?” and “What helps you understand your partner’s ideas?”
The book also encourages students to learn how to “work together” when doing math and to "listen to our friends and teachers."
Florida Reveal Math Grade 5, which was also rejected, uses similar prompts to encourage students to think critically about how they work with others in the classroom setting. “When we do math, we listen to the arguments of others and think about what makes sense and what doesn’t,” the book states in the introduction.
Other prompts encourage critical thinking and highlight relationship skills, such as: “What can I learn from others’ thinking about the problem?” and “What can you do to help all classmates feel comfortable in math class?”
The textbook encourages students to think about how they can “recognize and respond to the emotions of others” and practice building “relationship[s]” with classmates.
Popular Information also obtained a copy of another rejected textbook for elementary students, enVision Florida B.E.S.T. Mathematics Grade 1. The textbook includes a section entitled “Learn Together" which outlines the importance of “shar[ing] your ideas,” "valu[ing] ideas from others,” and “listen[ing] with an open mind.”
This is the kind of "dangerous" material that the Florida Department of Education and DeSantis is keeping out of the hands of young students.
Acknowledging that Black mathematicians exist is not Critical Race Theory
Popular Information also obtained M/J Grade 8 Mathematics: Pre-Algebra, the only middle school math textbook rejected for including "prohibited topics."
Almost all of the textbook is comprised of pre-algebra problems for 8th graders. But the book also encourages students to "actively participate," "persevere," and "keep a positive mindset." This focus on self-confidence could be considered SEL.
The textbook also features an occasional section called “Pause and Reflect.” Students are asked questions like “How did you show others that you value their ideas during class today?” and “Where in the lesson did you feel most confident?”
The textbook also includes short write-ups of mathematicians from throughout history. Two write-ups spotlight African American mathematicians––Elbert Frank Cox, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics, and Dorothy Johnson Vaughan, an African American mathematician who led a NASA unit.
But there are also several other short historical summaries of mathematicians from different backgrounds, including James Garfield and Liu Hui.
Regardless, these historical vignettes are not an example of CRT. Nor do these brief biographies constitute "race essentialism." Rather, this content is consistent with Florida Department of Education’s “multicultural representation” requirement for all 2021-2022 instructional materials in K-12 mathematics.
Learning about famous mathematicians is not a form of indoctrination.
Trigonometry problems are not "dangerous and divisive."
Florida's decision to reject several high school math textbooks is especially puzzling. Popular Information obtained a digital copy of Functions Modeling Change, one of five precalculus books that were rejected by Florida for the inclusion of prohibited topics.
Functions Modeling Change contains 10 mentions of "race" but all are related to running and biking. There is no discussion of racism and no math problems that deal with racial issues. There is also no discussion of emotions, teamwork, conflict resolution, or anything else associated with SEL. Instead, it is full of quadratic functions, trigonometry, and parametric equations. Another rejected precalculus book, Precalculus with Limits, has very similar content. So why were these textbooks rejected?
It is impossible to know for sure absent an explanation from the Florida Department of Education, but the initial press release delineated three categories of "prohibited" topics: CRT, SEL, and Common Core. DeSantis has made a priority of "eliminating" Common Core from the curriculum. Common Core is a set of national standards championed by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) and many other Republicans. Since Common Core was also embraced by former President Obama (D), it has become a target for DeSantis.
But Common Core's math standards are just a set of basic skills needed at each grade level. It is impossible to "eliminate" Common Core because many of those skills are foundational. For example, the Common Core standards for 1st Grade math include the ability to count to 120. One cannot eliminate counting from the math curriculum. Florida's B.E.S.T. standards, which DeSantis created to replace Common Core, also include the ability to count to 120 as a core standard for 1st Grade.
In 2020, Jacob Oliva, the chancellor of Florida's K-12 schools, "acknowledged that some BEST lessons would be similar to Common Core, like learning the alphabet in kindergarten or learning multiplication in third grade." So rejecting a textbook because it contains some concepts also included in Common Core makes little sense. And, in any event, nothing in Common Core's math standards constitutes ideological "indoctrination."
Popular Information also obtained Thinking Mathematically, another rejected textbook for advanced high school students. (The textbook is categorized by the Florida Department of Education as "Mathematics for College Liberal Arts.") The purpose of the book is to "understand and reason with quantitative and issues and mathematical ideas [students] are likely to encounter in college, career, and life."
Thinking Mathematically does include a discussion of "prejudice" but only as an example to illustrate that correlation does not equal causation.
The book also introduces the concept of "stereotyping" as a form of prejudice which can interfere with mathematical thinking. The discussion does not focus on racial issues.
There are some discussions of race and racial inequality, but they are used to illustrate mathematical concepts.
None of these passages could be fairly described as CRT or something that is "dangerous" to college-bound Florida students.
Popular Information is committed to doing whatever it takes to hold DeSantis and other powerful people accountable.
You can support this work — and expand our capacity to do more of it — with a paid subscription.
We don't have a paywall because we don't want money to stand in the way of the truth. But, to maintain our independence, we also don't accept advertising. So if you can afford $6/month or $50/year please sign up today and support this work.