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Our View: DeSantis the problem, not math textbooks

Censored prompts alongside equations help students think logically, reasonably

When thinking about what’s dangerous in Florida – gators, hurricanes, very old people with driver’s licenses – we would not have listed math textbooks. Yet, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education rejected 54 of 132 textbooks – 26 for “prohibited topics” – and revealed examples of social-emotional learning considered dangerous and indoctrinating to elementary schoolchildren. DeSantis sees social-emotional learning as the gateway drug to the hard stuff, critical race theory. This is faulty logic. The two are worlds apart.

Social-emotional learning gives students tools to manage their emotions, which helps them focus on the task of learning. In this case, math. Critical race theory is a framework typically taught in law schools that examines how racism has shaped U.S. policies and institutions. Critical race theory is not taught in K-12 public schools.

DeSantis’ censored social-emotional learning examples are cartoon children pop-ups alongside math problems that nudge students toward critical thinking and reasoning, which is what we parents want.

“Math is about getting the right answer,” DeSantis said. “It’s not about how you feel about the problem.”

He also said: “Two plus two equals four. It’s not two plus two and let’s have a struggle session over that.”

Wrong answer, DeSantis. No struggle session. His remarks show he’s reacting rather than responding in thoughtful ways.

Consider DeSantis’ flagged example from a rejected textbook, “enVision Florida B.E.S.T. Mathematics Grade 1,” from publisher Savvas Learning Co. In a pop-up, “Andy says that he can find 9 + 5 by starting with 9 + 1 = 10. What do you think about Andy’s way? Show your work and explain.” It also says, “To learn together, disagree respectfully.”

To “disagree respectfully” is a perfect skill for peers to put words to numbers and collaborate. It’s an on-ramp to deep understanding of mathematical concepts and, most important, problem-solving. How is this offensive?

Another example with the section “Learn Together,” includes, “Share your ideas: Say what you think to help you and others learn; Value ideas from others: There are many ways of thinking; Listen with an open mind: Be ready to think about what others have to say.”

Again, prompts support kids in figuring out math. Students articulate ways to think logically and come to conclusions. These concepts are stepping stones to managing money and our lives, understanding when statistics and percentages are off and, generally, knowing when someone is trying to deceive us.

DeSantis has said social-emotional learning is a distraction from math itself. But he doesn’t see the larger picture of keeping students on task. Social situations – and math – can bring anxiety and uncertainty. These prompts are harmless guides and reminders, embedded in classroom culture. Discuss math, work together. Be curious. Be nice.

Why is this threatening?

DeSantis forgets that he works for the people of Florida. This disruption, and time and money spent further his own interests and political ambitions to ascend the conservative GOP throne. He’s not focused on real problems. Instead, he’s creating them.

Students who like math enough to pursue it beyond high school can reach for Pure Mathematics, the study of concepts for the intellectual challenge and aesthetic beauty of figuring out logical consequences of basic principles. Math to do math. Imagine the people who go out to bars and write equations on cocktail napkins. Proofs in advanced math offer different ways to get to the same answer. To reach this level of engagement starts with knowing how to discuss math at its most elementary, arithmetic level. DeSantis doesn’t get this.

Problems at school are not in math textbooks. They’re closer to what goes down on playgrounds. Or situations created from accessing social media on phones. Or things that happen when children can’t navigate emotions and relationships.

DeSantis’ moral high ground is as shifty as the sand on a Florida beach.

His job is to govern Florida. This is not it.