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Florida congressman defends math book rejections: ‘Students are a captive audience’

A Florida congressman defended his state’s recent rejection of math textbooks due to their promotions of different ideologies, taking time at a House subcommittee hearing on free speech to provide an example from one of the books.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., distributed copies of a bar graph from a book submitted to the state. The graph shows differences in age groups on tests measuring racial prejudice.

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“This is math now,” Donalds said, noting that this graph was an example Florida’s Board of Education gave for why they rejected the book.

” 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?” he asked the panel.

Panelist James Whitfield, former principal of Colleyville Heritage High School in Texas, defended 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,” Whitfield said.

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, earlier in the hearing spoke against censorship of books and ideas including Florida’s parental rights bill, but she agreed with Donalds that the graph in question was concerning.

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“I saw this graph and I found it surprising and, frankly, inappropriate for a math textbook,” Nossel said. “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.”

Nossel said she understands where Donalds is coming from. 

” I think we’re all concerned about a polarized environment, 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, who is Black and has two children in Florida schools emphasized that he does not want students to deal with distractions in their lessons.

“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,” he said.

“And it’s not a free speech issue. Students are a captive audience,” Donalds continued. “They don’t get to leave. Adults, we can walk out any time we want to. The kids cannot.”

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