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Ron DeSantis' math textbook hoax
The Florida Department of Education issued an alarming press release on April 15: "Florida Rejects Publishers’ Attempts to Indoctrinate Students." The release claimed that publishers of dozens of math textbooks were attempting to indoctrinate Florida students with Critical Race Theory (CRT), Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and Common Core.
The release included a quote from Governor Ron DeSantis, who explicitly stated that publishers were targeting elementary school students with radical theories about race:
“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,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “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.”
Attempting to use math textbooks to indoctrinate elementary school students with "race essentialism," which is how right-wing activists characterize CRT, would be bizarre. DeSantis did not provide any proof for his claim that elementary school students were being targeted with CRT, but it nevertheless generated a slew of credulous headlines:
There was one problem with DeSantis' claim: It was completely and unequivocally false. No reviewer of Florida math textbooks for elementary school students found any instances of CRT. The truth is that each of the reviewers explicitly stated that they did not find any instances of CRT.
The initial list of rejected textbooks, published on April 18 by the Florida Department of Education, included seven textbooks for elementary school students that were rejected for "prohibited topics." Each of those seven textbooks was reviewed by at least two individuals, and occasionally three. All told, there were 16 total reviews of those seven textbooks.
Each of the 16 reviews addressed the following question: "Do materials align to Rule 6A-1.094124, F.A.C., which prohibits Critical Race Theory (CRT), in instructional materials?" Here are all 16 answers:
1. No CRT evident
2. No mention of CRT
3. No materials reviewed demonstrated CRT
4. No CRT concepts
5. No CRT present
6. None found
7. The material prohibits CRT in all the instructional materials
8. CRT not evident in SE [Student Edition] or TE [Teacher's Edition]
9. Non [sic] present
10. CRT not found in the materials
11. Not seen
12. Yes they align
13. No evidence of CRT
14. I did not see evidence that this was violated
15. No presentation of CRT in materials
16. Does not include
In other words, DeSantis' claim about math textbooks for Florida elementary school students containing "race essentialism" was a lie. And DeSantis knew or should have known that it was a lie.
The broader claims in the April 15 release from the Florida Department of Education were similarly flawed. A request for comment submitted to the Florida Department of Education was not returned.
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The two reviewers who found "evidence" of CRT in high school textbooks
There were 70 individuals who reviewed the Florida math textbooks for CRT. Just two claimed to have found evidence of CRT.
Both of the reviewers were assigned to high school textbooks. And both have a clear ideological agenda.
The first reviewer who claimed to find evidence of CRT is Chris Allen, a member of Moms For Liberty. As Popular Information previously reported, Moms for Liberty is a right-wing activist group that focuses on ginning up controversy about the alleged infiltration of CRT in classrooms. In Tennessee, for example, Moms For Liberty members attempted to ban a biography of MLK Jr, claiming it was CRT.
Allen appears to believe that anything acknowledging the racial prejudice exists constitutes CRT. She objected to a problem in a high school math textbook, Thinking Mathematically, that was based on a survey of racial prejudice. Allen claims the survey was CRT, even though the survey found that nearly all age groups had no more than "slight" racial bias.
Notably, this data was provided not to teach students about racism but as the basis for a question that asks students to practice representing each set by the "roster method," using appropriate notation.
Other objections are either more difficult to understand. Allen claims that the textbook is CRT because during a brief explanation of the Electoral College, there is "no mention of the Federalist Papers to understand why the Electoral College was established." Allen also objects to the fact that the author "talks about climate change as if it's fact."
There were three other reviews of Thinking Mathematically and none found any evidence of CRT in the textbook.
The other reviewer who claimed to find evidence of CRT was Jordan Adams. Not only does Adams have no training in math education, he doesn't even live in Florida. He's a "civic education specialist" at the conservative Hillsdale College. He's also the author of the Hillsdale 1776 curriculum, which "promotes politically conservative views of American history."
Adams said that a statistics textbook, Stats: Modeling the World, "may" violate the prohibition on CRT because one problem briefly mentions "racial profiling in policing" and another mentions "race and college plans."
There were two other reviews of Stats: Modeling the World and neither found evidence of CRT in the textbook.
The truth about Social Emotional Learning
As Popular Information previously reported, some of the textbooks do contain principles of SEL. But SEL is not equivalent to CRT, nor is it a form of indoctrination. 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 1997 but the concept of character development dates back at least to Benjamin Franklin in the mid-1700s.
One of the Florida math textbooks for elementary school students, Florida Reveal Math Grade 1, was rejected for including SEL. The textbook encourages students to learn how to “work together” when doing math and to "listen to our friends and teachers."
DeSantis seems to be very concerned about these kinds of lessons. “Math is about getting the right answer,” DeSantis said at a recent press conference, “It’s not about how you feel about the problem.”
But Florida's own math standards require textbook publishers to consider how students feel. "Multicultural Representation" is listed as one of eight "Major Priorities for Instructional Materials." This includes "a multicultural context, not just through pictures, but through information about ways to honor differences and deal with conflicts, promote a positive self-image for members of all groups, and provide for the development of healthy attitudes and values."
This kind of instruction is at the core of SEL. Publishers who included this information then found themselves accused of "indoctrination" and their math textbooks rejected.