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Analysis: Ron DeSantis takes his culture war to the next level

On Friday, the Sunshine State’s education commissioner announced that 41% of all math textbooks that were submitted had been rejected for not meeting the state’s new standards — including the banning of critical race theory.
“It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who championed passage of the “Stop WOKE Act,” which is aimed at limiting alleged liberal concepts in school curriculum.
According to a statement from the Florida Department of Education, many of the textbooks were rejected because they “incorporate prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies, including CRT.” (CRT is a concept that seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the US. Its critics suggest that it unnecessarily politicizes race — especially among young children.)

Other books were rejected because of the “unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics.” Yes! Why would we want our kids to learn about social and emotional issues? That’s not a life skill! Wait…

Stunningly, roughly 7 in 10 of the math textbooks that were submitted for students in grades kindergarten through 5th grade were rejected by Florida’s education commissioner.

What might seem outrageous — banning books is rarely a good look that leads to positive societal consequences — to some is a major win for DeSantis as he continues to use his role to lead a culture war against, uh, math.

“In Florida we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory,” DeSantis said when he introduced “Stop WOKE Act” late last year. “We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other. We also have a responsibility to ensure that parents have the means to vindicate their rights when it comes to enforcing state standards.”

DeSantis, who is eyeing a run for president in 2024, has picked a number of high-profile cultural fights that have bolstered his credibility among the Fox and MAGA wings of the Republican Party.

He has been outspoken in opposition to mitigation measures to slow the spread of Covid-19. (Florida was one of the last states to close down in the midst of the original outbreak in spring of 2020 and one of the first states to re-open after the initial wave.)
He’s championed civic literacy efforts aimed at teaching students the dangers posed by socialism and communism. “You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed,” DeSantis has said of the moves. “We don’t want that in Florida, you need to have a true contest of ideas, students should not be shielded from ideas and we want robust First Amendment speech on our college and university campuses.”
And of late, DeSantis has taken on Disney after the company spoke out against what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which seeks to ban discussion of gender and sexuality among young students.

DeSantis’ war on so-called “woke” culture is working for him, politically speaking. He consistently runs behind only former President Donald Trump in polls of the potential 2024 Republican field. His star is very much on the ascent.

But the DeSantis administration’s latest move on math books raises a simple yet profound question about the governor’s rise: What is it costing Florida schoolchildren?

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