- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Conservatives are increasingly fighting to remove “woke” public school textbooks that present mathematics as a tool of White supremacy.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, announced Monday that the state Department of Education had rejected 41% of the math textbooks submitted for its K-12 curriculum next year, including 71% of K-5 math textbooks, because they include “references to critical race theory” or “social emotional learning.”

“Reveal Math K-5,” one of several textbooks from McGraw Hill that Florida rejected, encourages students to discuss how they feel about solving problems. Conservatives see the language as a Trojan horse for liberals to revive efforts to “decolonize” mathematics of a perceived bias against multicultural students.

“Every lesson integrates a social and emotional learning objective along with the math and language objectives,” Reveal Math K-5 states on page 52.

In addition, conservatives objected this week to the Iowa City Community School District’s invitation for staff to attend a recent series of “equity courses” on race, gender and sexual orientation. One training session: “Ethnomathematics: The Study of Math as a Cultural Activity.”

“Educators will approach the mathematics classroom as ethnographers, exploring the origins of our current practices and questioning the hierarchies they produce,” a description of the training session states.

SEE ALSO: Virginia governor’s ban on teaching ‘divisive concepts’ sparks battle over race-based U.S. history

Nicole Neily, the founder of the conservative Parents Defending Education, said the Iowa training series shows how teachers can embrace “toxic ideologies” that impart a victim mentality rather than prepare students to succeed.

“They need to be able to teach students the math they need to know to pursue and succeed in the future, whether in higher ed or career paths that require that knowledge,” Ms. Neily said.

Critical race theory has increasingly been covered in the college training and professional development of K-12 mathematics teachers, said Colleen Sheehan, a professor in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University.

“There is no objective truth, not even in math,” Ms. Sheehan said in summarizing the liberal theory. “In actuality, all knowledge is a social construct.”

She cited “Critical Race Theory in Mathematics Education” (Routledge, 2019) by Julius Davis and Christopher C. Jett as an example of liberal ideology in textbooks. The ideology includes the idea that the equals symbol (=) is “a ruse to cover up things that are not equal.”

“Math and science, and reason in general, are tools of oppression,” Ms. Sheehan said. “Western White male cis rationality undergirds the racist, sexist, colonialist, imperialist Enlightenment project.”

Adam Guillette, president of Accuracy in Media, said “Reveal Math K-5” shows how well-meaning public school equity officers want to push out the idea from these resources that America is systematically racist, even in mathematics. His conservative watchdog group has tracked such efforts in Iowa, Idaho and Tennessee.

“One would think K-5 math textbooks would be about addition, subtraction and long division,” Mr. Guillette said. “But the use of social emotional learning allows teachers to push ideas entirely unrelated to mathematics, opening the door to CRT.”

McGraw Hill did not respond to a request for comment on Florida’s rejection of its textbooks.

The publisher posted a survey on Sept. 27 that said 87% of U.S. parents believe social emotional learning is necessary for their children’s education.

The publisher’s website defines social emotional learning “as the process through which young people and adults acquire and apply knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

“Across the board, parents, teachers and administrators recognize the significant impact SEL has on academic achievement and student motivation, and we are committed to providing SEL resources that support everyone connected to the classroom,” Sean Ryan, president of McGraw Hill’s school group, said in an online statement.

Some free speech advocates have said conservatives are exaggerating the issue for political gain.

PEN America, a New York-based free speech advocacy group, said in a statement Monday that Florida’s rejection of the math textbooks is part of “a multi-pronged effort to undermine faith in public schooling.”

“Questions remain about the grounds for these rejections, and whether these removals are really about scoring political points,” PEN America said.

Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor in the history of education at the University of Pennsylvania, said Mr. DeSantis and other Republican leaders who seek to remove K-12 textbooks have used “the bugbear” of critical race theory to “fire up” their voter base.

“Of course, we disagree about those subjects, and we should discuss those disagreements in our classrooms. But purging textbooks will inhibit that discussion instead of promoting it,” said Mr. Zimmerman, author of an upcoming book about Trump-era culture wars in public schools.

Conservatives point out multiple examples of liberals seeking to “decolonize mathematics” as part of an effort to purge what they say is White supremacy.

In June, California’s Instructional Quality Commission considered introducing into the state’s classrooms a modified version of “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction.” EquitableMath.org developed the curriculum to remove cultural bias against multilingual, Black and Hispanic students.

EquitableMath.org says the curriculum offers students “opportunities for ongoing self-reflection as they seek to develop an anti-racist math practice.”

Jonathan Butcher, an education fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the Gates Foundation-funded program teaches math students “to explain everything around them in terms of racism.”

“The curriculum seeks to ‘identify and challenge the ways that math is used to uphold capitalist, imperialist and racist views,’” Mr. Butcher said.

He noted that critical race theorist Gloria Ladson-Billings was the keynote speaker for the 2019 annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the nation’s largest association of math teachers.

Jeff Johnston, a culture and policy analyst at the conservative evangelical Focus on the Family, said math conferences and workshops increasingly promote texts like Blitzer Precalculus, which includes teachings on racial bias and ethnic diversity.

“Textbook producers, teachers unions and institutions that train teachers are just some of the groups working to indoctrinate students with this ideology,” Mr. Johnston said.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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