Well Of Course Republicans Want To Institutionalize Bullying. It's What They Love.
A little over a week ago, the Florida Department of Education announced it had rejected 54 mathematics textbooks that had been submitted for use in the state's schools, because they allegedly included "critical race theory" or other topics that were supposedly "prohibited" under Florida law. Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested that the textbook publishers had tried get away with sneaking all sorts of terrible things into the textbooks, including "indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students," although neither his office nor the state Education department actually provided any examples.
Asked for details on what was in the rejected textbooks, the state punted. First, DeSantis's spokesperson Christina Pushaw presented an example of a worksheet from Missouri in 2022 that had nothing to do with the Florida textbooks. For its part, the Department of Education offered examples of supposedly verboten materials that had been "provided to the department by the public" — in other words, stuff Floridians objected to in other texts, but which also were not from the textbooks that were actually rejected.
Finally, though, the New York Times was able to review 21 of the books that Florida rejected (free Times linky), as provided by publishers, and it made some reasonable guesses about what may have been the reasons for rejecting the books. Big surprise: The Times found "little that touched on race, never mind an academic framework like critical race theory." The closest thing, if you squint funny, might be a McGraw Hill pre-algebra textbook that included mini-biographies of several mathematicians in history, many of whom were women or people of color. Shocking! We suppose it's also possible there was incredibly scandalous stuff in the 33 books the Times didn't review, which undoubtedly included problems like "1619 + 1492 = Pervasive White Guilt."
What the Times did find, however, were some examples of another forbidden concept in Florida schools, social-emotional learning (SEL), which has become another target of the Right, because unlike critical race theory, it really exists, and pushes a horrifying socialist agenda of "[helping] students develop mind-sets that can support academic success."
One publisher's rejected texts identifies
five core skills students should develop: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness and relationship building. This framework was developed by CASEL, an education nonprofit. [Emphasis added — Dok Zoom]
Now, you might well ask, what's so scary about those? They sound like skills that would really help kids to learn better. And in fact, the Times notes, "Research suggests that students with these skills earn higher test scores."
Here's a sample of a textbook page, from "enVision Florida B.E.S.T. Mathematics Grade 1," that sneaks a little bit of social-emotional learning into a math problem:
See how it's indoctrinating children with leftist ideology? No, neither do we, although as somebody on Twitter said, the graphic design, with those Uncanny Valley CGI kids, might be a valid reason for cancelling the books. Plus, Andy's stance seems pretty threatening, as if he's about to demand reparations.
Just as, a decade ago, Common Core was socialism for reasons that nobody could quite define, social-emotional learning is also a source of corruption, socialism, and probably Gay Antifa Transgender Indoctrination, too, although righties seem awfully unclear on explaining why. One rightwing blog seized on some cherry-picked quotes to suggest SEL is aimed at turning kids into "leftist activists." Another explained that SEL and Common Core both push "Marxism." The Epoch Times warned that schools are actually replacing academics with "far left" socialist indoctrination that's "designed not to educate but to transform children’s core values, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior."
As "evidence," articles like these play a fun game of substitution themselves: Instead of explaining why "self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making" and the like are somehow inherently leftist, the articles point to other things in progressive education that should scare conservatives, like discussions of diversity and systemic racism, and then they insist that SEL is pushing those scary social justice concerns. After all, many of the educators who like SEL also think racism is a real problem, so obviously SEL is pushing "wokeness."
For comment on the Florida textbooks, the Times turned to rightwing CRT bloody-shirt waver Christopher Rufo, who was happy to say a bunch of words about the evils of SEL without actually explaining a goddamn thing:
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.”
“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.”
You will wait in vain for Mr. Rufo to explain the "practice" here, because it's awfully difficult to show any link between Math-robot-child Andy's call to "disagree respectfully" in a classroom discussion and those frightening attacks on American values Rufo complains about.
So instead of actually building an argument, the assertion is enough. And let's be completely clear here: This is absolutely nothing new. It's just a continuation of the Right's same old war on public education as ever, but with the buzzwords changed around some. Instead of complaining that the schools are advancing "secular humanism" — or its cousin, the dreaded "critical thinking" — as they did in the 1980s and '90s, the anti-education forces are now against the evils of cooperation, empathy, and learning together, because all social skills are apparently social-ist, too. It's as if they've internalized Margaret Thatcher's dictum that "there's no such thing as society" so completely that any mention of working together or being part of a group looks like an effort to force children onto a collective farm.
These fulminations about the dangers of empathy and equity are absolutely nothing new. Just as in the past, the Right can't stand being told that bullying is a bad thing. After all, if you aren't actively bashing minorities and sinners, people might get some uppity ideas about belonging in America, and the Right can't have that. The old gay-bashing is simply being updated and called "parental rights," which boils down to the "right" to ensure that children be "protected" from any mention of the existence of gay and trans people, lest they be "groomed" into not hating them.
Rufo, for his part, finds all this very exciting, telling the New York Times for a profile published Sunday (free link) that he thinks the Right's backlash over LGBTQ rights could make for a way bigger, better moral panic than even the epic shit fits over "critical race theory." Or as Rufo put it, “The reservoir of sentiment on the sexuality issue is deeper and more explosive than the sentiment on the race issues," because there's no shortage of hatred out there for the GOP to harness.
Mind you, Rufo carefully pretended to distance himself from that "groomer" talk, telling the Times that's a very serious word, and that "It’s wrong, factually and morally, to accuse someone of being a groomer with no basis and evidence." Not that those concerns have actually tempered his own writing; the Times points out that Rufo has also written that
American schools were “hunting grounds” for teachers, and that “parents have good reason” to worry about “‘grooming’ in public schools.”
He's super excited about the prospects for whipping up fear and paranoia about gay and trans people, too, telling the Times he's launching a new series of articles that will scare the living shit out of rightwing voters. Or as Rufo puts it,
“You have to provide the vocabulary for people to talk about” gender issues, he said. “Once that happens, it’s going to be explosive.”
Gosh, we can hardly wait to see what that involves, as if it will be any more nuanced than screaming in the nicest possible terms that all Democrats want to offer up your children to pedophiles. What an intellectual adventure.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.