‘Students are a captive audience. They don’t get to leave’: Fla lawmaker defends state’s ban of ‘woke’ math books

During a recent House subcommittee hearing on free speech, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida defended his state’s rejection of certain math textbooks which tried to sneak some woke ideology into their lessons.

As part of his argument, Donalds submitted as evidence copies of a bar graph that was included in one of the math books. According to Fox News, the graph illustrated what purports to be different outcomes between age groups on tests that measure racial prejudice.

“This is math now,” Donalds explained during the hearing. “This is an example of a bar graph being used in a math textbook that was slated for adoption in the state of Florida…This is one of the examples that the state board of education actually cited for why this math book was rejected.”

“So my question for all the panelists,” Donalds asked, “should material like this be in a mathematics textbook that will go before students—who might be taking math lessons somewhere in middle school, fifth grade, or even ninth grade—should this bar graph, talking about implicit bias or racial bias, be included in a mathematics textbook, not just in the state of Florida, but in any state in the Union. Panelists, what is your answer?”

After none of the panelists exactly leaped at the chance to answer his question, Donalds quipped “Not all at once, y’all…come on.”

At this point, James Whitfield, one of the panelists and a former principal of Colleyville Heritage High School in Texas, did his best to defend the graph.

“This may be something that certain people view as uncomfortable, but racial prejudice is a real thing and I dare say our students get that, they understand that,” he said.

Suzanne Nossel, another panelist and the CEO of the free speech advocacy organization PEN America, agreed with Donalds that the graph was not well chosen for a math book.

“I saw this graph and I found it surprising and, frankly, inappropriate for a math textbook,” she observed. “I thought there was a risk that this was going to stoke division and detract from the lesson, and you know, whether the entire panoply of math books, you know, should have been rejected for this one chart I think is a different question. Could this chart have been modified or changed? I think that is what we should focus on.”

But she also conceded that Donalds’ concerns were legitimate and understandable.

“I think we’re all concerned about a polarized environment,” she said, “we’re concerned about how to keep our kids focused on learning and achievement, and something that risks detracting from that I don’t think belongs there.”

Donalds was adamant that sneaking in doses of “woke” material into objective fields like math could not be tolerated, and was an unnecessary distraction for schoolchildren.

“I don’t want children…having their attention distracted from actual learning,” he explained. “If we’re going to talk about history, let’s talk about history. But if we’re going to bring in subjective material into the classroom, that is the problem that has some parents upset in the United States.

“And it’s not a free speech issue,” he added. “Students are a captive audience. They don’t get to leave. Adults, we can walk out any time we want to. The kids cannot. That’s why this is such an important discussion to be had.”


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Todd Jaquith


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