As the uproar over Department of Education (FLDOE) deemed inappropriate mathematics textbooks continued this week, the governor claiming that the curriculum materials were proprietary, the publishers could appeal the decision, and he would respect the process, the FLDOE decided to release four examples of objectionable content. In this post, GOT will examine the first example or as he will dub it, Exhibit A for the court of public opinion. Cue the theme song for the People’s Court.
The exhibit shows two bar graphs with the cited source being Project Implicit, which is a research endeavor by three scientists from the University of Washington, Harvard University, and the University of Virginia. From their page, they describe themselves as “The mission of Project Implicit is to educate the public about bias and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the internet.”
You can participate in their research by taking their Implicit Association Test. Actually, there are a number of tests you can choose from, not only a black-white test, but also a weight test, a gay-straight test, others involving Asians, Arab/Muslims, and light skin/dark skin, and more.
Exhibit A presents the test data in two categories: age range and self-identified political orientation. It is labeled ‘racial prejudice,’ which means we can’t tell if the bar graphs are a compilation of the many dichotomies that the project probed or whether it is limited to black/white.
It is easy to see why these bar graphs triggered the governor, the commissioner of education, and groups like Moms for Liberty as an example of Critical Race Theory (CRT). They are not, but that’s beside the point. (CRT is a way to interpret history and social science data in terms of systemic racism, which is not individual bigotry or prejudice but the discriminatory nature of institutions and societal structures based on race that CRT also claims is a social construct–one that does not have a biological basis but is a categorization of human thought.)
CRT is used like people use acronyms for texting, shorthand for talking about race and the disparate treatment of human beings based upon their perceived category. This is anathema to people like Ron DeSantis and Moms for Liberty, who disguise their preference for white supremacy by claiming to be color-blind and that is the highest ideal. They even quote the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. out of context as support.
In response to actions like banning math books over Exhibit A, public education advocates explain that this is not CRT and that CRT is not taught in public schools. They might as well try to explain that LOL means laughing out loud, not lots of love to the uninitiated. They’re not listening. The actual meaning or theory does not matter; what matters is the irrationality and great emotion that the acronym will arouse.
CRT, for them, means any discussion about race other than that America is a great, benevolent nation, Ronald Reagan’s shining white city on the hill, and that is all public schools should teach.
Fun fact: Florida avers that history such as the 1920 Ocoee massacre will be taught. That was when a white mob took revenge on the Black citizens who had had the audacity to vote in the 1920 presidential election. In one November night, a Black population of hundreds was reduced to nearly none.
We will teach the history of Ocoee, but that is not the question. The question is how it will be taught. Will schools present it as a shameful episode of lynching? Or will it be taught as something else? (If you’re following the policies of Ron DeSantis, you’ve already noted that the voting rights of Black citizens is something he does not respect.)
Thus, Exhibit A. It comes from an algebra book that asks students to use a given equation to calculate answers to questions. Like explaining that CRT is not taught in public schools, explaining the purpose is learning how to perform calculations with sophisticated equations is beside the point. For DeSantis and his ilk, it shows how evil, liberal with a big L publishers, are trying to sneak the forbidden topic into their books and therefore the classroom.
Dissecting the prosecution’s argument in the court of public opinion is useless. Whining that we’re not doing that does not help. What’s needed is a forceful argument that examining, discussing, and debating these topics is important and crucial for the upcoming generations of young people whose values and principles will make or break this nation.
Black history and white history are not the same. History is not the recitation of facts, events, and years. It is the interpretation of such things, how we understand the past and how it impacts the present. History is the science of connecting causes and effects. It is the art of tracing the movement of ideas and power through generations to see where we are today and why we are here.
As such, we need to acknowledge that the Black experience and the white experience of America’s colonial years, formative years, and the years since have not been the same. We cannot move forward into the future if we do not understand the present. That means we must hear from diverse viewpoints. We must listen with respect with an effort to understand why without judgment. The crusades began because of the ill-treatment of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land or so we’re told from the viewpoint of medieval Europe. The Moslem peoples of the Near East had a different perspective about the presence and actions of the pilgrims moving through their lands.
Much of GOT’s progress as a teacher came with daily reflection on what took place in his classroom and why. Sometimes, after conflict with students over the violation of basic rules, he was left wondering about the dynamics of the interaction. GOT was the authority, the white authority, in the room. How were his Black students perceiving him? GOT believed himself to be fair, but did they? What was their thinking? Complicating this was the fact that we are also dealing with adult/child perceptions and that students are reluctant to be candid with their teachers.
But understanding that there was a perception filter that came between these interactions was important. GOT read lots of books written by Black authors explaining their perception of what Black children experience in the classroom. By his willingness to listen to others not like himself, GOT gained an appreciation and a perspective he would not have otherwise.
We need to advocate for discussions of race, history, experience, cultural appreciation, and different perspectives in the classroom. Let us not get diverted by the emotional triggers. We can say, “You’re wrong in your attack upon public schools over CRT, but what we really need to talk about is why we need to talk about race in our schools.”
Wasn’t it Socrates, a classical Greek philosopher, a pillar of Western Civilization with its Greco-Roman base, who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”