Florida rejected 42 math textbooks last year because they supposedly “incorporate[d] prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies.” Math textbooks. Now imagine that same state review process being applied to social studies textbooks.
It’s happening now—Florida is reviewing potential social studies textbooks in a process that not only includes expert reviewers but draws on volunteers from conservative groups—and it’s as bad as you might expect from a state that rejected dozens of math textbooks for containing critical race theory or social emotional learning (the latter including stuff like advice on how to “disagree respectfully” when solving math problems). And as we’ve seen again and again, even aside from the overt censorship of the DeSantis administration, fear of the process causes self-censorship.
RELATED STORY: Florida is on the attack again, this time targeting math books they claim contain CRT content
A New York Times review found a publisher that had removed all mention of race from its account of the arrest of Rosa Parks. Really.
A current publication from Studies Weekly explains, “The law said African Americans had to give up their seats on the bus if a white person wanted to sit down.” But according to a new version created for this textbook review process, “She was told to move to a different seat because of the color of her skin,” while another version—the Times could not learn which of these was officially submitted for review—says only, “She was told to move to a different seat.”
The same publisher removed direct mentions of race from other discussions of segregation law, shifting from an explanation that “laws made it a crime for African American men to be unemployed” to saying, “They even made it a crime for men of certain groups to be unemployed.”
According to a statement from the Florida Department of Education, a textbook that “avoids the topic of race when teaching the Civil Rights movement, slavery, segregation, etc. would not be adhering to Florida law,” but this is how vague, overbroad Republican bans on things work: They create enough uncertainty and an atmosphere of threat to make people or companies or organizations so afraid of running afoul of the law that they do things like strip mentions of race out of the Rosa Parks story. Or hospitals refuse to authorize medical care in cases of miscarriage or threat to the mother’s health because someone somewhere might decide it was an elective abortion.
When Florida rejected math textbooks for critical race theory, of course social studies textbook publishers looked at how they were writing up the histories of slavery and segregation and the civil rights movement and got real paranoid. That’s the whole point. And it’s equally part of the point that, when a publisher goes all the way to removing race from its recounting of how a civil rights activist was arrested for intentionally violating a Jim Crow law, just as when a woman ends up in the ICU for days with sepsis after being denied an abortion, the people who promoted the laws that produced those results go, “Whoa, we didn’t mean for that to happen. But it’s not our law! It’s just people misreading it.”
Maybe Studies Weekly went beyond where it needed to go to get past the Florida textbook review. But maybe it didn’t. One conservative group involved in the review has called on the state to reject 28 of 38 books its volunteers looked at. Objections included a book that mentioned slavery 189 times within a few chapters, or a book that focused on the “negative side” of how colonists treated Indigenous people without giving more attention to incidents where Natives killed colonists. Florida is also doubtless affected by the mindset that led “Moms for Liberty” in Tennessee to object to a children’s book about Ruby Bridges because, among other things, it shows photos of the signs white segregationists held up in opposition to Bridges going to first grade at a segregated white school. Florida’s Stop W.O.K.E. Act isn’t so different from the Iowa law that led a school superintendent to tell a social studies teacher he couldn't say slavery was wrong.
The whole point is creating that atmosphere of fear that means DeSantis doesn’t need to write into law, in so many words, “Don’t even think about mentioning race at all,” because textbook publishers and teachers and school administrators get the message.
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