DeSantis defends math textbook rejection as Dems seek proof of critical race theory lessons

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday defended the state’s decision to disqualify dozens of proposed math textbooks for broaching critical race theory and other “impermissible” topics while fending off demands from Democrats to release examples of allegedly “indoctrinating” information.

“We want kids to learn to think so they get the right answer,” DeSantis told reporters Monday at an event in Jacksonville.

The Florida Department of Education on Friday rejected some 54 math books from state classrooms, a move that drew national attention when DeSantis claimed that the proposals from publishing companies contained lessons on “indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism” for elementary students. The move was just the latest example of Republicans, including DeSantis, scrutinizing what students are learning and how issues like race and gender orientation are being taught.

Asked on Monday what a critical race theory math lesson could look like, DeSantis said “there’s a number of reasons” the state turned down the textbook proposals aside from that issue. The majority of rejected textbooks were for kindergarten through fifth grade.

DeSantis noted that Florida recently approved new teaching standards attempting to root out traces of “Common Core” in the state curriculum. DeSantis has made education and parental rights a major priority since his election in 2018, most recently pushing the Republican-led state Legislature to approve a measure to prohibit teaching critical race theory and backing another, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents, that bans educators from leading classroom lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation for students in kindergarten through third grade.

“You do have things like social and emotional learning, and some of the things that are more political in there,” DeSantis said of the disapproved math textbooks, though he did not provide specific examples.

Critical race theory is an analytical framework that examines how race and racism have become ingrained in American law and institutions since slavery and Jim Crow. Conservatives have used it to criticize how race is being taught in the K-12 education system. Most public school officials across the country claim not to teach the theory — even in districts where lawmakers are seeking to ban it.

Democrats are pressing the DeSantis administration to provide examples of what the state labeled as “references to critical race theory” embedded in math texts proposed for Florida’s 2.8 million public school students.

Education officials claim the publishers ignored the state’s guidelines and attempted to slip “rebranded instructional materials” and other “divisive concepts” or “unsolicited strategies of indoctrination” into the books. To that end, 28 proposed math textbooks — or 21 percent — were left off the adoption list due to “prohibited topics,” including critical race theory.

Florida Department of Education officials have not yet responded to requests from POLITICO to provide examples from textbooks deemed “impermissible” under state standards.

In one example of how “CRT is being injected in math instruction,” DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw cited a piece of math homework from a public school in Missouri surrounding Maya Angelou’s past. Pushaw included an email from local school officials apologizing for the assignment that asked questions about the poet’s time as a prostitute and pimp, something they said came from outside the official curriculum.

“So instead of having a hissy fit because @GovRonDeSantis banned CRT math textbooks, ask yourself why CRT is being injected in math instruction to begin with?” Pushaw wrote on Twitter over the weekend. “I promise you, in China kids aren’t learning about pimping in math class.”

Democrats have labeled this out of state example as an attempt by the DeSantis administration to “distract and deflect.”

DeSantis “had three days to provide basic info on the 54 math books he banned from schools for allegedly ‘indoctrinating’ kids with CRT,” state Rep. Carlos G. Smith (D-Orlando) wrote on Twitter. “The best his propaganda machine could do was deflect to a Missouri district that apologized for a homework assignment they didn’t approve.”

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, joined Democrats in calling for more transparency over the textbook decisions.

“The state has an obligation to ensure that every child is getting the math instruction they need with the highest quality materials,” FEA president Andrew Spar said in a statement.

DeSantis said he would be open to the state making public examples of the textbooks, but maintained that the content is considered “proprietary information” as publishers weigh possible appeals to the rejections.

“I would like it to be released, but I also respect the process,” DeSantis told reporters Monday.

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