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Social studies without social justice
By June 10, publishers of social studies textbooks are required to submit their materials to the Florida Department of Education for review. Textbooks that meet state requirements will be available for schools to use in K-12 social studies classes in the 2022-23 school year.
According to guidance released by the Florida Department of Education, social studies textbooks must not include any component of "social justice." Lessons related to social justice, the guidance states, "may lead to student indoctrination."
Social justice is not comprehensively defined in the Florida Department of Education guidance. But one component of social justice, according to the Florida Department of Education, is "seeking to eliminate undeserved disadvantages for selected groups."
Is is possible, however, to teach social studies — a topic which explores how society developed and functions — without covering any efforts to "eliminate undeserved disadvantages for selected groups"? Popular Information reached out to Anton Schulzki, President of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), "the largest professional association in the country devoted solely to social studies education," to find out. In addition to his current role as President of NCSS, Schulzki has taught social studies in Colorado Springs, Colorado since 1983.
Schulzki was unconvinced that teachers could provide a rigorous social studies education without addressing issues of social justice. Schulzki told Popular Information that social justice "goes hand-in-hand with teaching civil rights," which is a central component of a social studies curriculum.
Schulzki said that he believes "students should have the opportunity to take a look at a full picture of US history and/or world history" and that involves learning about "social justice movements." Topics that have been frequently included in his classes over the years include "voting rights," "the right to an equal and fair education," "civil rights for African Americans," and "civil rights for women." The point of introducing these topics is not to indoctrinate students politically. Schulzki said that social studies teachers "want our students to learn to ask really good questions, and to know that their social studies teachers don't always have the answers."
Policy makers that impose prohibitions on topics like social justice in the classroom, Schulzki noted, "spend little or no time going to schools." Teachers, he said, should not be prohibited from covering important topics because "somebody found the notion of words 'social justice' to be something that they don't agree with."
The interests of students and teachers, however, appear to be taking a backseat to the interest of Governor Ron DeSantis (R) in using the Florida Department of Education to advance his political agenda.
The problem with banning Critical Race Theory
DeSantis claims that Critical Race Theory (CRT), an academic theory about how racism is embedded in legal structures, is being taught in Florida's K-12 schools. DeSantis benefits politically by championing new laws banning CRT in schools and "protecting" children from radical indoctrination.
The problem with banning CRT in K-12 schools, however, is that it is not taught in K-12 schools. It is taught in law school. So if all you did was ban CRT in K-12 schools it would quickly die as a political issue.
DeSantis ran into this problem earlier this year when he claimed several math textbooks for Florida elementary schools students contained "race essentialism," DeSantis' shorthand for CRT. Weeks later, the reviews of the textbooks released by the Florida Department of Education revealed that DeSantis' claim was a complete fabrication.
So Florida has started to ban other topics that it claims are CRT in disguise. The state first pivoted to banning Social Emotional Learning (SEL). But SEL is not equivalent to CRT. 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.
The state's guidelines for math textbooks banned SEL. This meant the state began rejecting textbooks for encouraging students to learn how to “work together” when doing math and to "listen to our friends and teachers."
The guidelines for social studies textbooks also bans SEL, including any discussion of "managing emotion" or "social awareness."
The Florida Department of Education now claims, without explanation, that social justice is "closely aligned" with CRT. This might be news to the leaders various social justice movements, such as women's suffrage, which occurred many decades before CRT was conceived in the early 1980s. While the ban on social justice will likely reduce the quality of social studies textbooks in Florida, it provides DeSantis with a potent new political cudgel.
Stacking the deck
Next, the Florida Department of Education will assemble a panel of reviewers to examine the social studies textbooks submitted by publishers.
There were 70 reviewers of Florida Department of Education's review of K-12 math textbooks. Nearly all found no evidence of CRT. But a couple of reviewers claimed to find evidence of CRT in high school math textbooks. These reviewers were not experts in math or high school education. They were ideologues committed to DeSantis' political agenda.
The first reviewer who claimed to find evidence of CRT in a math textbook was 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 did not identify any evidence of CRT in one high school textbook, Thinking Mathematically, but objected to a passing mention of racial prejudice. 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 Florida Department of Education has not released the list of reviewers for social studies textbooks.