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Why Florida’s ban on textbooks is just another scare tactic

It’s time to stop using children as pawns to promote a racist political agenda.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando in February.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando in February.
REUTERS/Octavio Jones

When Florida schools begin their 2022-23 school year, teachers will have lost 41 percent of their available math textbooks.  

That’s because the state of Florida seems determined to use children of all races as pawns to promote a political agenda — one aimed at reinforcing racism, rather than dismantling it. Earlier this year, as part of its controversial “Stop WOKE Act,” the state of Florida banned 54 math textbooks. These books reportedly contained prohibited topics, including so-called references to critical race theory, or CRT.

After being asked to reveal specific examples of the offending material, the state offered a mere five screenshots, including a statistical analysis of racial prejudice and a mention of social and emotional learning.

It is difficult to find, in recent memory, any policy that does a better job of illustrating white supremacy and systemic racism than the “Stop WOKE Act” and the subsequent banning of math textbooks.

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Having a powerful group mostly comprised of white men unilaterally decide what is and isn’t racist and what can be taught about racism is itself a perfect illustration of systemic racism. The math textbooks have been found to contain no mentions of critical race theory. A majority of reviewers gave the books “perfect or near-perfect marks” according to the Washington Post. That they can be banned to justify the state’s backward policy somehow is a perfect example of how white supremacy hurts everyone.

CRT is being used as a scare tactic by proponents of the “Stop WOKE Act” and similar legislation. However, CRT is a fundamentally positive thing for anyone interested in seeing racism eradicated. The mere mention of the existence of racism is not CRT.

Politicians and political pundits who spent their careers stoking racial anxieties and supporting racist policies have co-opted this term to inject confusion into any anti-racism efforts, including efforts to teach accurate history.

In a country that has supported genocide, enslavement, internment, segregation, racial housing discrimination, education bans, lynching, medical experimentation and voting bans, it is absurd to suggest that teachers should not talk about racism.

Matthew Kincaid
Matthew Kincaid
Racism is deeply embedded in the fabric of our country, and hiding that fact via the banning of books or the insistence that it harms white students is not going to change it.

If we want to learn from the mistakes of our past, we have to educate our students about them, so that we, as a country, do not repeat them. Racism will endure if we pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Anti-racism efforts like CRT are only political because they have been politicized. Regardless of a person’s political orientation, we should all find common ground and agree that racism is a social ill that should be eradicated.

The “Stop WOKE Act” signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis transports this country back to a much darker time. Not since the state of Missouri banned all Black people from getting an education in the state, free or enslaved, can I think of a policy that has made such a clear attempt to debase the education of children for purely racist reasons. As Fredrick Douglass warned, “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken [adults].”

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Turning away from this country’s racist past and building an anti-racist future depends, and has always depended, upon our ability to raise the next generation to be better than the last, and we have come too far to go back now.

Matthew Kincaid, a former social studies teacher and school administrator, is founder, CEO and chief consulting officer of Overcoming Racism.

 This commentary originally appeared in The Hechinger Report.