‘What? Me? Racist?’ Florida’s education department gives examples of math textbook concerns
The math textbooks rejected by the state of Florida included word problems that discuss racism and practicing empathy with others, according to examples released Thursday by the Department of Education.
The department posted examples on its website following numerous questions regarding its announcement April 15 that 41% of math textbooks were rejected for reasons such as the inclusion of critical race theory and social-emotional learning.
In one example, a word problem starts with, “What? Me? Racist?” and asks the student to calculate a level of racial prejudice. Another example shows a bar graph with the heading, “Measuring Racial Prejudice, by Political Affiliation.”
Another example has a social-emotional exercise that says, “Students building proficiency with social awareness as they practice with empathizing with their classmates.”
The concept of “social and emotional learning” is popular in schools and is viewed as a way to help students manage their emotions, set goals, show empathy for others and make responsible decisions. But some critics see it as another way to slip in race-based lessons.
“These examples do not represent an exhaustive list of input received by the Department,” the website says. “The Department is continuing to give publishers the opportunity to remediate all deficiencies identified during the review to ensure the broadest selection of high-quality instructional materials are available to the school districts and Florida’s students.”
The department did not say which specific textbooks or publishers any of the passages came from.
However, the example with the bar graph measuring racial prejudice was the subject of a complaint from Indian River County mom Chris Allen. It came from the book “Thinking Mathematically,” which was published by Savvas Learning Company for a Mathematics for College Liberal Arts course.
Allen, who is part of the conservative Moms for Liberty group, reviewed some math textbooks for her local school district and the state, posting her findings on Facebook in January. Allen said she flagged what she viewed as problematic passages in some of the high school books and shared her concerns with local administrators and the education department.
Allen said she did not think the company should have injected issues of gender bias, racism and political affiliation into its math books and was “definitely” pleased when state leaders announced those books did not meet Florida’s standards.
“We hope, wish and pray that [the state] found the same things that we did,” Allen said.
A spokesman for Savvas couldn’t be reached Thursday. Earlier this week, Savvas spokesman Richard Weir said the company “has a long and successful track record” of working with the state to ensure that instructional materials align with “the current Florida standards for mathematics.” He said “once we obtain additional information from the state as to the specific reasons why” certain books were rejected, “Savvas will work toward an appropriate resolution.”
In Central Florida, Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole county schools all picked elementary school math books that are on the now rejected list. None had purchased books yet, however, and all are waiting to see if the publishers they selected successfully appeal the state’s decision or make requested changes and end back up on the state-approved list. None knew what prompted the state to reject books their teachers and administrators viewed as quality picks.
In South Florida, all three school districts had identified books for adoptions that are on the unapproved list, although none had spent money yet. They say they are waiting for clarity from the state Department of Education.
“These big announcements are made at the highest levels by the governor or commissioner of education. Then when the 67 school districts reach out to the Florida Department of Education to get guidance, that’s slow to follow,” said Mike Burke, superintendent for Palm Beach County Schools.
Districts are not banned from using books that are not on the state-approved list. However, at least 50% of the money it receives for textbooks must be used for state-approved materials.
Florida told publishers there were four “special topics” that could not be included in math textbooks. Those subjects were “critical race theory,” often called CRT, “culturally responsive teaching as it relates to CRT,” “social justice as it relates to CRT” and “social emotional learning.”
State rules and laws forbid the teaching of critical race theory. The theory, first proposed by legal scholars, says racism is embedded in the country’s institutions. Historically, the theory has been a law or graduate school subject and not one taught in public schools. But critics rallying against it say its tenets have seeped into K-12 classrooms with the aim to make white children feel guilty and to teach children to hate the United States.