Just the facts ma’am

The NY Times tries to figure out what’s so wrong with some math textbooks that Florida officialdom didn’t want:

After the Florida Department of Education rejected dozens of math textbooks last week, the big question was, Why?

The department said some of the books “contained prohibited topics” from social-emotional learning or critical race theory — but it has released only four specific textbook pages showing content to which it objects.

That’s a bizarre pairing – social-emotional learning or critical race theory. Really? Both of those? Were they in combination? If so, how? Color me skeptical.

The Times looked at some publishers’ samples to try to get a sense of the reasons, while saying that it’s necessarily guesswork because Florida is being secretive.

In most of the books, there was little that touched on race, never mind an academic framework like critical race theory.

Imagine my surprise. I guess the state officials just threw the race thing in there to…well, to invoke racism in aid of a different objection altogether. That’s nice.

But many of the textbooks included social-emotional learning content, a practice with roots in psychological research that tries to help students develop mind-sets that can support academic success.

Well we can’t have that. If they don’t already have the mind-set when they get to school then they can just drown, so there.

The bugbear appears to be something called “social-emotional learning.” Ed schools can be squishy, I’ve gathered from various sources, but that doesn’t mean school children should be treated like information-intake devices.

But right-wing activists like Chris Rufo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, have sought to tie social-emotional learning to the broader debate over the teaching of race, gender and sexuality in classrooms.

That’s a broader debate all right, or to put it another way, it’s a completely different debate.

In a March interview conducted over email, Mr. Rufo stated that while social-emotional learning sounds “positive and uncontroversial” in theory, “in practice, SEL serves as a delivery mechanism for radical pedagogies such as critical race theory and gender deconstructionism.”

Really? In practice, that sounds as if he’s bullshitting.

“The intention of SEL,” he continued, “is to soften children at an emotional level, reinterpret their normative behavior as an expression of ‘repression,’ ‘whiteness,’ or ‘internalized racism,’ and then rewire their behavior according to the dictates of left-wing ideology.”

That’s even less convincing. What “normative behavior”?

Mr. Rufo also raised concerns that social-emotional learning requires teachers “to serve as psychologists, which they are not equipped to do.”

Wait. We’re talking about schoolchildren here, not adults, not even young adults. You can expect college students to know how to be students, but with children it’s just not that simple. Schoolteachers can’t be just information-output devices any more than their students can be intake devices. Teachers need to have some sense of how to get kids interested, how to keep them from getting discouraged, how to prevent them from tormenting each other, and so on. My wild guess is that they do need to know something about child psychology.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has spoken more generally about social-emotional learning as a distraction, in his view, from math itself. “Math is about getting the right answer,” he said at a Monday news conference, adding, “It’s not about how you feel about the problem.”

Yes, but, if learning math is making a kid or several or many kids feel like shit then maybe it would be a good idea to fix that.

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