“Curmie,” whose lively and erudite blog has been a favorite of mine for many years, weighed in on Ethics Alarms with his usual force on several substantial issues last week. Here is his first of two Comments of the Day (the other will be along shortly), both involving Florida controversies. This one takes off from the post, “Ethics Verdict: Non-Math Propaganda Does Not Belong In Math Textbooks”…
Certainly the injection of any kind of political agenda into elementary school math textbooks is a significant problem. Or at least it would be, if it actually happened on anything like a regular basis. What I find most interesting about this case is the fact that neither Governor DeSantis nor anyone on the Board of Education has (yet, as I write this) shown an example of the offending material from any of the books that have been sanctioned. I presumed that since the list of books has indeed been made public, numerous such examples will soon be forthcoming. Then we can make an informed judgment. Except, of course, now the governor is claiming the specifics are “proprietary information” as publishers weigh possible appeals to the rejections. Were I of a cynical disposition (perish the thought!), I might suggest that that delay ought to get him past the November elections. [JM Note: Subsequent to Curmie’s comment, some examples of varying persuasiveness (see above) were made public.]
What we have by way of example, at least that I can find, is an obviously absurd question that appeared on a homework sheet in a Missouri school. Back when I was blogging more regularly, I’d write about similarly stupid assignments several times a year. I’ve got to yield here to Florida State Representative Carlos Smith’s observation that “The best his [DeSantis’s] propaganda machine could do was deflect to a Missouri district that apologized for a homework assignment they didn’t approve.” Importantly, the worksheet was pulled from a website, not a textbook. So we can’t blame McGraw-Hill or Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt for that particular outrageousness.
If there’s one statement of opinion I’m willing to take as fact, it’s that politicians, all of them, lie. And Governor DeSantis is unquestionably trying to position himself as a national political figure within his party by throwing out red meat to the True Believers. The fact that he hasn’t shown any (literally any) actual evidence of intrusions into appropriate pedagogy is to be ignored. He becomes a champion of the anti-Woke without having to do anything but spout off about problems that are quite likely exaggerated, isolated, or outright fabricated.
None of this is meant to suggest that the proclamation by the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics is anything but, well, nuts, or that there aren’t a few crazies on the left who believe in this sort of nonsense. But I confess that I am long since past patience when even people whose commentary I have long respected (you, Jack, and Humble Talent, to name two) start telling me what I, as a progressive, believe. I refuse to be lumped in with the unthinking gaggle of leftist drones, just as I hope those to my political right choose not to be associated with the believers in Jewish space lasers.
If and when I see evidence that Governor DeSantis has identified real problems that are qualitatively and/or quantitatively significant, I’ll change my opinion. Right now all I see is a grand-standing anti-intellectual phony who cares more about his political future than about either children or education.
I will certainly grant that publishers are interested in making a buck more than anything else. Of course, I live in a state in which the state Board of Education exercises even more control over textbooks than Florida’s does. The state of Texas is the largest book-buyer in the country; if your book is used in every Texas classroom, you’re making a pot of money. Conversely, why publish a book if you know it’s going to be rejected by the hacks who make up the Board of Education? The result is that publishers pander to the extreme, and I do mean extreme, right-wing agenda of the TBOE. I see no reason to believe that similar issues of prior restraint wouldn’t apply to Florida.
A few examples of what I’m talking about, Texas version: A few years ago, James Madison—you know, “the Father of the Constitution”—was removed from the “required” list for schoolkids because he advocated the separation of church and state. The primary cause of the Civil War wasn’t slavery at all, apparently, just because the secessionists said it was; that ranked third, after “sectionalism” (whatever the hell that is) and States’ Rights (rights to do what?). A children’s book was forbidden (unread, of course) because the author had the same name (shared by thousands of other Americans) as someone who wrote a book about Marxism. (This one was eventually fixed, without apology, of course.) Third graders (!) must consider the “impact of taxes and government regulations on consumer prices”; they get to be a little older before they must “evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty through the use of treaties.”
Tell me again how it’s only the left that wants to indoctrinate schoolchildren.
Few people care less about education than politicians. By “education” here I mean the real thing, in and of itself, not to be confused with the ability to weaponize it for political gain. Any attempt to suggest that one party has a monopoly on trying to pervert the system for political purposes is naïve at best, mendacious at worst.