Controversy in the United States: how math textbooks are banned in Florida

Controversy in the United States: how math textbooks are banned in Florida

NEW YORK.- After the The Florida Department of Education Rejected Dozens of Math Textbooks Last Week the big question was: why?

The ministry said some of the books “contained prohibited topics” of social-emotional learning or critical race theory, but he has only published four pages of specific manuals showing the content he objects to.

Use of sample materials in line provided by publishers to Florida school districts, The New York Times was able to review 21 of the rejected books and see what might have caused the state to reject them. Because Florida has released so few details about its textbook review process, it’s unclear whether those examples led to the rejections. But they illustrate how these concepts appear, and do not appear, in teaching materials.

In most books, there were few references to race, apart from an academic framework such as critical race theory.

But many textbooks included content from social-emotional learning (known as SEL), a practice rooted in psychological research that aims to help students develop mindsets that can support academic success.

The image below, from materials provided by Big Ideas Learning, whose elementary textbooks have been rejected in Florida, shows a common way to train teachers to think about social-emotional learning.

The diagram lists the basic skills students need to develop and provides an example of how to overcome fear and build self-confidence.Learning big ideas

The pie chart names the five basic skills that students need to develop: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness and relationship building. This framework was developed by CASEL, a non-profit educational organization.

Until recently, the idea of ​​developing social-emotional skills was uncontroversial in American education. Research suggests that students with these skills perform better on tests.

But the right-wing activists like Chris Rufo, principal investigator at the Manhattan Institute, have tried to linking social-emotional learning to the broader debate about teaching about race, gender and sexuality in the classroom.

In an email interview in March, Rufo said that while social-emotional learning sounds “positive and uncontroversial” in theory, “in practice, SEL serves as a delivery mechanism for radical pedagogies such as critical race theory and gender deconstruction”.

“SEL’s intention,” he continued, “is to soften children emotionally, to reinterpret their normative behavior as an expression of ‘repression,’ ‘whiteness,’ or ‘internalized racism,’ and then to reconfigure their behavior in accordance with the precepts of leftist ideology”.

Rufo also expressed concern that social-emotional learning requires that teachers “serve as psychologists, which they are not prepared for”.

The Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, — a Republican already running for president — spoke more generally about social-emotional learning as a distraction, in his view, from the math itself.

“Mathematics is about getting the right answer”, he said at a press conference on Monday, adding: “It’s not about how you feel about the problem.”

Stephanie M. Jones, a developmental psychologist and social-emotional learning expert at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, disagreed.

“Feelings arise all the time, they arise when we work in our offices and when children learn things,” she said. “It makes sense to try to engage those feelings or manage them to be more effective at what we do.”

Many of the rejected textbooks encourage students to Consider your emotions. In a fifth-grade book by McGraw Hill, pictured below, students are encouraged at the start of the school year to write a “math biography” that reflects their feelings on the subject and how they hope math skills will help them. will help to enjoy hobbies or achieve goals.

A textbook invites students to share their
Textbook invites students to share their ‘mathematical biography’McGraw Hill

‘A mathematical biography is one way to help children,’ Professor Jones said. “There is plenty of evidence that if you can bring out your uncertainty and anxiety about something, it is easier to deal with and deal with”.

Teachers can read the biographies to find out which students need extra support, he added.

Some McGraw Hill pages include socio-emotional prompts that have little to do with math problems, like this example below from a fifth grade book. Under an ordinary math problem, students are asked, “How can you understand your feelings?”

An educational division of the page asks students the question: "How can you understand your feelings?"
An instructional division of the page asks students the question, “How can you understand your feelings?”McGraw Hill

Some of the theories related to social-emotional learning have penetrated deeply into popular culture and the business world. Among the most popular are the concept of “growth mindset” developed by Carol Dweck of Stanford, and the closely related idea of “value”, developed by Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania.

These theories have sometimes attracted more criticism from the left than from the right. Some educators feared that the area of ​​social-emotional learning will celebrate behaviors associated with upper-middle-class white culture and paying too little attention to the kind of courage it takes to grow up in poverty, for example, or to overcome the barriers of race, language and class that can make it difficult for many students to stay in school.

Conservative education experts, meanwhile, have often praised efforts to teach “character,” a concept that overlaps significantly with social-emotional learning.

The textbooks that Florida rejected are full of references to character traits like perseverance and the Cooperation. A grade one textbook from Savvas Learning Company, formerly known as Pearson K12 Learning, repeatedly references the importance of “struggling to learn”, “learning together” and having a “growth mindset”. Throughout the book, cartoon children appear on the sides of the pages to remind students of these ideas:

In addition to first-grade math exercises, a character urges students to: "To have a growth mindset, try a new way when you're stuck"
Along with first-grade math exercises, a character urges students, “To have a growth mindset, try a new shape when you get stuck.”Savvas Learning Society

Secondary school books are also based on these concepts. A rejected geometry textbook from Study Edge, pictured below, asks students to rate, from 1 to 4, how willing they are to ‘try new things’ in math or ‘persevere when something is difficult’ .

After assessing their understanding of mathematical concepts, students are asked to self-assess if they are ready to "try new things" Yes "persevere when something is difficult"
After assessing their understanding of mathematical concepts, students are asked to self-assess their willingness to “try new things” and to “persevere when something is difficult”.study board

Over the past year, as Republican Party activists have increasingly focused on what they call the the excesses of progressive education, social-emotional learning has been criticized.

In June 2021, The Florida Department of Education sent a memo to math textbook publishers, advising them not to include “social-emotional learning and culturally appropriate teaching” in their materials.

Timothy Dohrer, director of faculty leadership at Northwestern University, called it “myopic” and said research has shown that incorporating social-emotional learning into texts helps students develop social skills.

“If you ask 100 CEOs what skills they are looking for in a new hire, the top five skills will be in social-emotional learning, not algebra,” mentioned.

“Are you a good person to talk to? Are you going to be a good colleague? added Professor Dohrer. “We know the best way to teach this is to combine it with math, social studies, whatever.”

Professor Dohrer said that despite its importance, social-emotional learning has become mired in the debate over critical race theory, which is not usually taught in K-12 schools but has become a focus of study. alarm among those who attack efforts to teach a more critical breed. teaching history in America.

“SEL has no connection with critical race theory –he said – and yet he connects at the level of the local school board and local communities, as well as in the national dialogue.

There are few references to race in these math textbooks, although publishers were often careful to include word problems with race. ethnically diverse names and foods, such as empanadas. But this rejected McGraw Hill pre-algebra textbook, pictured below, included mini-biographies of mathematicians throughout history, almost all of whom were women or people of color:

A page from an eighth-grade pre-algebra textbook includes a short biography of Dorothy Johnson Vaughan, an African-American mathematician who ran a computer science unit for the agency now known as NASA.
A page from an eighth-grade pre-algebra textbook includes a short biography of Dorothy Johnson Vaughan, an African-American mathematician who ran a computer science unit for the agency now known as NASA.McGraw Hill

In a statement, Savvas said it would “work with the Florida DOE to resolve any perceived issues” and said it was common for editors to revise documents to meet state standards. Other companies said they wouldn’t comment until they had time to consider why their books were rejected. Publishers have 21 days to appeal decisions under Florida state law.

Vincent T. Forese, president of Tampa-based publisher Link-Systems International, who submitted the syllabi for three high school math subjects that were rejected for reasons unrelated to social-emotional learning or critical theory of race, asked why the state made such a glaring announcement. that the books had been rejected.

“I don’t know what the value proposition is of doing an ad like that, other than the political value it has“, mentioned.

By Dana Goldstein and Stephanie Saul

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