DeSantis’ textbook ban and SEL position will hurt our kids

Jordan Reid is the founding editor of Ramshackle Glam.
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Jordan Reid

Author; Founding Editor, Ramshackle Glam
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The Florida Department of Education recently banned fifty-four math books due to what the state calls “prohibited topics” including critical race theory and social-emotional learning. While Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) praised the ban, opponents claim the policy will cause great harm. Straight Arrow News contributor Jordan Reid argues that targeting SEL in schools will negatively affect how kids learn empathy and see the world:

In today’s “I’m glad I don’t live in Florida” news, the state’s Department of Education recently banned dozens of – yes – math textbooks, the premise being that they do not meet the state’s Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking standards, which Governor Ron DeSantis used as a replacement for Common Core standards that he viewed as indoctrinating concepts like the existence of racial bias. 

According to a press release, reasons for banning these textbooks included, quote, “references to Critical Race Theory (CRT)…and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics.”

So what is social-emotional learning, and why might it be a problem, in mathematics textbooks or otherwise? 

Casel.org defines social-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.”

In short, SEL helps kids develop emotional literacy. Which seems…you know…positive? 

Except how some factions of the far right view SEL is as a sort of gateway drug: If you’re willing to accept others’ differences and empathize with them, you can then be essentially reprogramed into social justice warriors, and may even come to believe that certain individuals enjoy advantages based on their race, gender, or sexual identity. 

The increased right-wing resistance to social-emotional learning can thus be viewed as an extension of the rejection of CRT, albeit this time in a more all-encompassing way that suggests that not only should critical race theory not be taught…even the skills required to open one’s mind to empathy for others’ perspectives and lived experiences should be eliminated from school curriculums.

In today’s “I’m glad I don’t live in Florida” news, the state’s Department of Education recently banned dozens of – yes – math textbooks, the premise being that they do not meet the state’s Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking standards, which Governor Ron DeSantis used as to replace Common Core standards that he viewed as indoctrinating concepts like the existence of racial bias. 

According to a press release, reasons for banning these textbooks included, quote, “references to Critical Race Theory and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning in mathematics.”

And this isn’t the first time the right has cited social-emotional learning as an objectionable concept, seemingly an extension of Critical Race Theory, which we already know they hate. 

So what is social-emotional learning, and why is it a problem, in mathematics textbooks or otherwise? 

Casel.org defines social-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.”

In short, SEL helps kids develop emotional literacy. Which seems…you know…positive? 

Except how some factions of the far right view SEL is as a sort of gateway drug: If you’re willing to accept others’ differences and empathize with them, you can then be essentially reprogramed into social justice warriors, and may even come to believe that certain individuals enjoy advantages based on their race, gender, or sexual identity. 

Which brings us all the way back around to Critical Race Theory and those math textbooks: 21% of which were rejected because they incorporate, quote, “prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies, including CRT.”

To be clear: Social-emotion learning and CRT are not the same thing, although social-emotional learning – empathy – is probably more likely to teach children increased sensitivity towards various cultural and social biases.

The increased right-wing resistance to SEL can thus be viewed as an extension of the rejection of CRT, albeit this time in a more all-encompassing way that suggests that not only should CRT not be taught…even the skills required to open one’s mind to empathy for others’ perspectives and lived experiences should be eliminated from school curriculum entirely. What could possibly go wrong?


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