In Florida, Activists Turn Eye on Social Studies Textbooks

There's a move to make publishers make controversial moves on language in textbooks
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 17, 2023 2:23 PM CDT
Next Under Florida's Eye: Social Studies Texts
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Ridofranz)

Last year, Florida went to town scouring its math textbooks for any sign of nonallowable content, including topics tied to critical race theory and "unsolicited strategies" such as social emotional learning (SEL). Now, social studies in the state is also under the microscope, as the traditionally "boring" approval process for textbooks finds itself mired in a politically charged environment, driven by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' determination to quash what he calls "woke indoctrination" in schools. The New York Times notes that Florida is one of more than a dozen states in which the state decides which textbooks get used in schools (usually it's made at a more local level), and that conservative activists have been increasingly poring over textbooks there to see if any "prohibited" topics turn up.

Meanwhile, publishers often follow the money—meaning that, in big markets like Florida, California, and Texas, they'll often acquiesce to local politics and change textbooks accordingly. In one instance cited by the Times, publisher Studies Weekly, whose materials are used in elementary schools in Florida, saw progressively changed language in a story about Rosa Parks designed for first-graders. In a version currently used in classrooms, a line reads: "The law said African Americans had to give up their seats on the bus if a white person wanted to sit down." In a second version made for textbook review, that same line is a murkier one: "She was told to move to a different seat because of the color of her skin." And in a second updated version, which nixed any mention of segregation, direct or indirect: "She was told to move to a different seat."

Florida's Education Department is pushing back, noting publishers that shy away from topics like the civil rights movement, slavery, and segregation are breaching state law. Some find the moves chilling. "Will students be provided with a watered-down version of history? I think from new teachers they will. Because they may be fearful," Dr. Robert Bailey, a former reviewer of such texts, told WFTV last summer. Lawrence Paska, head of the National Council for the Social Studies, told Education Week that allegations around a widespread use of "indoctrination" by teachers was nonsense. "Educators are trained, licensed professionals whose job is to help students achieve standards to be prepared for graduation, to be prepared for a life beyond school," he said. "Restrictions and limitations to that serve the opposite effect." (More Florida stories.)

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