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What makes a social studies textbook "woke" in Ron DeSantis' Florida
According to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R), textbook publishers are attempting to indoctrinate Florida students by incorporating "woke" concepts into social studies textbooks — in violation of state laws prohibiting certain kinds of instruction on race and gender. The DeSantis administration says it is scrutinizing these textbooks for "inaccurate material, errors and other information that was not aligned with Florida Law." Then it is demanding that changes are made before the textbooks get into the hands of Florida students.
The Florida Department of Education says the problems in social studies textbooks are pervasive. In a press release, the state said that only 19 of the 101 social studies textbooks initially submitted were approved for statewide use. The rejections were based on reviews of the textbooks conducted on behalf of the Florida Department of Education.
Many of these reviews are performed by right-wing activists from the Florida Citizens Alliance, a group closely aligned with the DeSantis administration. "Our public education system is failing America’s students academically, civically and morally," the Florida Citizens Alliance says on its website. "Florida children are being indoctrinated in a public school system that undermines their individual rights and destroys our nation’s founding principles and family values."
As of June 12, 87 of the 101 textbooks were approved after unspecified changes were made to dozens of textbooks. But there has been very little information provided about what caused the textbooks to be rejected in the first place or what content was edited. The Florida Department of Education has not responded to public records requests filed by the Florida Freedom to Read Project seeking that information.
Popular Information discovered, however, that the Florida Department of Education has quietly posted the initial reviews of all currently approved social studies textbooks — including those that were initially rejected. These reviews, which have not been previously reported, reveal why these social studies textbooks were deemed unacceptable.
In several instances, the reviewers of rejected texts mischaracterized basic factual information as biased, inappropriate, or ideological.
First Grade textbook denounced for including image of same-sex family
One of the initially rejected textbooks for 1st Grade was Social Studies Alive! My School and Family, published by the Teachers' Curriculum Institute (TCI). One reviewer of Social Studies Alive! My School and Family determined that the textbook was in "very poor/no alignment" with the provision of Florida law that prohibits "any instruction regarding sexual orientation or gender identity." The reviewer does not claim there is any instruction in the text about sexual orientation or gender identity. But the reviewer notes that the textbook's "photographs and graphics include homosexual and heterosexual couples." The reviewer also claimed that the photos of "non-traditional families" violates the Florida requirement that the material be presented "objectively" and is "free of bias."
Here is an example of an offending image:
Middle school textbook deemed inappropriate for referencing "LGBTQ court cases," "lesbianism," and "abortion rights"
Another initially rejected textbook for 6th-8th grade was Civics Alive! Foundations and Functions, also published by TCI. One reviewer who did not recommend the text claims that "the discussion of lesbianism… [is] inappropriate for the middle school classroom."
This is the entire "discussion of lesbianism" within the textbook:
LGBTQ candidates have also made some headway gaining governmental positions. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin became the first lesbian elected to the Senate in 2012… In 2021, the New York Times noted there were 986 LGBTQ elected officials across both the federal government and state governments.
The same review concludes that the "reference of LGBTQ court cases" is an example of "liberal bias" that is inconsistent with state standards. This is the only LGBTQ-related court case referenced in the textbook:
The review of Civics Alive! Foundations and Functions also claims the discussion of "abortion rights" is "inappropriate." This is how the textbook addresses abortion rights:
Conservatives tend to be more supportive of judicial restraint than are liberals. In their view, elected representatives, not unelected judges, should make policy decisions on such issues as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
While the reviewer claims the textbook is biased toward "the left," its description of the conservative approach to judicial restraint — especially in light of recent decisions by conservative federal judges — is rejected by most liberals.
Middle school social studies textbook cited for including "slavery image"
One middle school social studies textbook, Florida United States History Advanced: myWorld Interactive, was not rejected by the state but did have several issues flagged by a reviewer. For example, the reviewer writes that "Slavery image on pg. 444 may violate the statute relating to guilt of future generations." This is a reference to the Stop WOKE Act, which prohibits instruction that makes an individual "feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race."
This is the image on page 444:
The same reviewer also cites another image that depicts "the life of White plantation owners," which the reviewer believes is "outside the scope of the standard and potentially the law." This is the image at issue.
The same reviewer also objects to aspects of a section called "Characteristics of White Society," claiming it is "irrelevant and may violate the intention of the law regarding generational guilt."
An opaque process
In many other cases, the reviews of social studies textbooks do not provide any detail about the alleged violation of Florida standards or law. Nor has the state provided any information about what, if anything, has been changed for specific textbooks that were initially rejected but later approved.
This allows Florida officials, including DeSantis and Commission of Education Manny Diaz Jr., to make broad assertions about "woke indoctrination" embedded in textbooks. The materials necessary to fact-check these claims are not released until much later. This strategy enables DeSantis and his allies to manipulate the media narrative.
In April 2022, for example, DeSantis explicitly claimed that publishers of math textbooks were targeting elementary school students with Critical Race Theory, which DeSantis sometimes calls "race essentialism":
“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.”
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.
Weeks later, Popular Information reported that the reviews of the math textbooks revealed unequivocally that DeSantis was lying. No reviewer of Florida math textbooks for elementary school students found any instances of CRT.