Florida governor candidate Rep. Charlie Crist demands DeSantis explain textbook bans

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Charlie Crist demanded transparency about the Florida Department of Education's reasons for banning of math textbooks.

After the state of Florida banned 54 textbooks from the state's public schools on April 15, Rep. Charlie Crist, who is running as a Democratic candidate for governor, demanded that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis be transparent about the reasons for banning them.

Crist said in a video posted to his Twitter account, "I have put in a formal request that he be transparent about these books that he is banning in our schools across the state of Florida. Forty-one math books that we don't know why, we don't know what the purpose was behind it. You the people have a right to know. That's why I'm making a request. The Sunshine Laws require it." 

Short of claiming that the books include "references to Critical Race Theory (CRT), inclusions of Common Core, and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics," the Florida Department of Education offered few specifics on why the books were banned. The Brookings Institution's definition of CRT is: "Simply put, critical race theory states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race." It has become, the organization says, a "new bogeyman for people unwilling to acknowledge our country's racist history and how it impacts the present."

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning describes social and emotional learning as "the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the 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." Claire Lampen of the Cut suggested, "It seems a segment of the right fears that encouraging children toward consideration and compassion for their peers will lead to acceptance of their differences, whether in race or gender or sexuality or religion or any number of other identity-based areas of life."

Across the country, the alleged teaching of CRT and SEL has become a hot-button issue in recent years for Republicans, with people even showing up at school board meetings and shouting at and threatening members. According to a study by Brookings published in November 2021, nine states had passed legislation against what Republicans call "critical race theory," although the laws in only two mentioned the term, and Arizona's law was overturned by the state Supreme Court. According to Brookings, "The legislations mostly ban the discussion, training, and/or orientation that the U.S. is inherently racist as well as any discussions about conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination, and oppression. These parameters also extend beyond race to include gender lectures and discussions."

A further 20 states have introduced or plan to introduce similar legislation. A PEN America report called "Educational Gag Orders," published in 2021, examined states' laws on CRT and concluded, "Their adoption demonstrates a disregard for academic freedom, liberal education, and the values of free speech and open inquiry that are enshrined in the First Amendment and that anchor a democratic society." 

In March, DeSantis signed H.B. 1467, a bill that gives parents increased say in the selection of books available in schools. DeSantis singled out two books that he considered inappropriate and mischaracterized their content during the signing ceremony: "Gender Queer: A Memoir," by Maia Kobabe and "Lawn Boy" by Jonathon Evinson, which deal with young people's gender and sexual identity issues.

DeSantis signed House Bill 1557, called "Parental Rights in Education" and dubbed "Don't Say Gay" by opponents, passed in the Florida House in the same month. That law says, "Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."

Other states are seeing similar anti-LGBTQ legislation in schools, and teachers unions have begun to push back. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the American Independent Foundation in an email, "It's important to remember these bans are not about helping kids but are targeted, calculated political attacks against the very institution of public education." 

In a comment for the American Independent Foundation, the school district of Manatee County, Florida, said that it "adheres to the curriculum and instructional standards set forth by the Florida Department of Education and Florida Statutes. All curriculum and instructional materials are approved by the Florida Department of Education. As such, the district will adhere to and abide by any new legislation passed into law by the state legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis as it relates to education in the state of Florida."

The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Crist and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried are the Democratic front-runners in the gubernatorial primary race. The primary will take place on Aug. 23.

In 2018 DeSantis won the governorship by just 0.4%, the closest election in the state's history.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.