Florida now warns publishers against ‘critical race theory’ in social studies books

Orlando Sentinel | By Leslie Postal | May 19, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Amid controversy over how it rejected math books, the Florida Department of Education is seeking proposals from textbook companies to provide social studies materials while again making clear that its definition of “critical race theory” should not be included.

The department is accepting bids from companies through June 10 to provide social studies books for five years starting in 2023. The department has posted to its website a 29-page document for what is expected to be included in the books — and what’s expected to be left out.

“Critical race theory, social justice, culturally responsive teaching, social and emotional learning, and any other unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination are prohibited,” part of the document said, citing state education standards.

The criteria emphasize a requirement that all materials align with the state’s “Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking” standards, which were adopted by the state in 2019. Those standards came after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order to eliminate vestiges of Common Core standards.

The department issued the same warnings to math book publishers but announced that many failed to heed it.

In an April 15 news release, DOE reported 41% of math textbooks during the adoption process were rejected for reasons related to critical race theory, Common Core and social emotional learning.

That news baffled educators and angered DeSantis’ political opponents, especially after state records reviewed by the Orlando Sentinel and Miami Herald showed that only three of more than 70 book reviewers found any suggestion of CRT in the math texts.

On Tuesday, the department posted an update to social media that said 88% of the math textbook submissions have now been accepted, with 12% still being refused.

“Publishers are aligning their instructional materials to state standards,” the department said in a graphic that accompanied the post.

Free-speech organization PEN America issued a statement Wednesday criticizing the state about the math textbooks’ rejection.

Jeremy Young, senior manager of the organization’s Free Expression and Education program, said the rejection “demonstrates how broadly ‘educational gag orders’ can be wielded against a range” of educational materials.

“The rejections come in the midst of a multi-pronged effort to undermine faith in public schooling, and invoke terms that have become buzzwords for justifying censorship, but which remain vague and ill-defined,” Young said.

Democratic candidates vying to challenge DeSantis in the November election have criticized the governor over the textbook issue.

“DeSantis is banning math books, I want to expand Medicaid,” state Agriculture Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried tweeted Wednesday.

Critical race theory, a college-level concept based on the premise that racism is embedded in American institutions, has been a target of DeSantis and other Republicans across the country.

DeSantis last month signed a bill (HB 7) that will limit the way race-related issues can be taught in schools and in workplace training. That law also serves as a basis for the state’s prohibition on critical race theory, often referred to as CRT..

The social studies textbook guidelines quote the state law and list what are described as “potential CRT components,” such as the concept that a person “bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.”

The textbook criteria also explicitly bar social studies materials that would teach the concept of social justice.

“Social justice is closely aligned to CRT (critical race theory),” the document said.

Social emotional learning is another concept that would be barred from textbooks. That would include instruction incorporating “identity and identity identification concepts,” managing emotion, developing relationships and social awareness.

The state’s process for adopting social studies materials is slated to continue through April 2023.

Staff writer Leslie Postal and News Service of Florida compiled this report.

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