Florida Rejects Dozens of Social Studies Textbooks, and Forces Changes in Others

Florida has rejected dozens of social studies textbooks and worked with publishers to edit dozens more, the state’s education department announced on Tuesday, in the latest effort under Gov. Ron DeSantis to scrub textbooks of contested topics, especially surrounding contemporary issues of race and social justice.

State officials originally rejected 82 out of 101 submitted textbooks because of what they considered “inaccurate material, errors and other information that was not aligned with Florida law,” the Department of Education said in a news release.

But as part of an extensive effort to revise the materials, Florida worked with publishers to make changes, ultimately approving 66 of the 101 textbooks. Still, 35 were rejected even after that process.

Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, has campaigned against what he has described as “woke indoctrination” and a leftist agenda in the classroom. Last year, the state rejected dozens of math textbooks, saying that the books touched on prohibited topics, including critical race theory and social emotional learning, which have become targets of the right.

The state’s review of social studies textbooks, which is conducted every few years, was widely expected to raise similar objections.

The state education department released a document outlining several revisions that it said publishers had made at its request. But the document did not list the titles or publishers of the revised books, making the claims difficult to independently verify.

The revisions outlined by the state included:

  • An elementary school textbook no longer includes “home support” guidance on how to talk about the national anthem, which had included advice that parents could “use this as an opportunity to talk about why some citizens are choosing to ‘Take a Knee’ to protest police brutality and racism.’” Florida officials said that content was not age-appropriate.

  • A text on different types of economies was edited to take out a description of socialism as keeping things “nice and even” and potentially promoting greater equality. The description was flagged as inaccurate, and mention of the term “socialism” was removed entirely.

  • A middle school textbook no longer includes a passage on the Black Lives Matter movement, the murder of George Floyd and its impact on society. The removed passage described protests, noting that “many Americans sympathized with the Black Lives Matter movement,” while other people were critical of looting and violence and viewed the movement as anti-police. The state said the passage contained “unsolicited topics.”

Manny Diaz, Jr., the Florida education commissioner, said in a statement that textbooks should “focus on historical facts” and be “free from inaccuracies or ideological rhetoric.”

Teaching about race has become a lightning rod nationally, but especially in Florida, where Mr. DeSantis, who is widely expected to announce a 2024 presidential bid, has made it a signature political issue.

Yet the tone of this year’s announcement by the state was softened, compared with last year.

When the state rejected the math textbooks in 2022, the announcement was made in a splashy news release emphasizing the rejections: “Florida Rejects Publishers’ Attempts to Indoctrinate Students.”

This year, by contrast, state officials emphasized the percentage of textbooks that had been approved, and how the state had worked with publishers to increase the number of approvals.

At a news conference at a classical charter school on Tuesday morning, Mr. DeSantis signed a package of education legislation and emphasized other topics, including $1 billion in funding to increase teachers’ pay.

The governor put little focus on the social studies textbooks, though at one point he appeared to allude to reporting by The New York Times, which found that a publisher, Studies Weekly, had rolled back discussions of race in its submissions in Florida, including in the story of Rosa Parks.

“If you are trying to create narratives that something like a Rosa Parks book is not allowed, that is a lie,” Mr. DeSantis said on Tuesday.

Studies Weekly has said that it had been trying to “decipher” how to comply with a new Florida law, known as the Stop W.O.K.E. Act. Signed by Mr. DeSantis last year, the law prohibits instruction that would compel students to feel responsibility, guilt or anguish for what other members of their race did in the past. The law has at times created confusion, and Studies Weekly later apologized for what it described as an overreaction by its curriculum team.

(Studies Weekly’s social studies submissions were not approved for use in Florida.)

The state’s approved list of social studies textbooks will have a significant impact on how history is taught to nearly 3 million Florida public school students, on topics ranging from slavery and Jim Crow to the Holocaust.

Florida’s textbook approvals can also influence what students learn in other states. Fewer than half the states approve textbooks at a statewide level, but those that do include Florida, Texas and California, the three biggest markets. Publishers often cater to these states, using them as a template for the materials they offer in smaller markets.

Florida rejected some textbooks from large national publishers, like McGraw Hill and Savvas Learning. Those companies did not immediately respond to interview requests on Tuesday.

Another large publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, did not even bid in Florida’s social studies market this year.

Adam Laats, a historian of education at Binghamton University, said that for more than a century, American publishers have revised textbooks to appease political concerns, sometimes using razor blades to remove material on topics like evolution or Reconstruction.

The push to censor school materials has often come from conservatives, Professor Laats said — and in Florida’s announcement, he heard echoes of old battles. He noted that state policymakers cited “age appropriateness” in asking one publisher to remove the discussion of athletes taking a knee during the national anthem.

While the subject of police violence may indeed be disturbing to children, Professor Laats said, the state made no objection to another reference to violence and death on the very same page of the lesson: “Talk to your child about our military and how they sacrifice their lives for us,” the text states.

“Using age appropriateness is a strategic or tactical move,” he said, adding, “Parents and other stakeholders tend not to like the idea of textbooks having important information cut out. But parents are friendly to the idea of age appropriateness.”

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