Rejecting ‘social-emotional learning’ in math books doesn’t add up, say educators – Orlando Sentinel

Florida made national headlines when he announced his rejection of 54 math textbooksclaiming, without evidence, that some aimed to indoctrinate children with “critical race theory” and other inappropriate topics.

But what has intrigued some educators and scholars most is the state’s determination to ban books that include “social-emotional learning.”

After all, a decent description of this principle can be found in Florida’s new “personal liberty” law (HB 7), one that Gov. Ron DeSantis dubbed his “anti-awakening” measure and pushed as a way to ban critical race theory, said Jordan Posamentier, vice president of policy and advocacy at the Committee for children, which champions social-emotional learning.

The law, which DeSantis signed on April 22, states that Florida public school students should learn “life skills that build confidence, support mental and emotional health, and enable students to overcome challenges.”

Children, he adds, should also learn “self-awareness and self-management. Responsible decision making. Elasticity. Relationship skills and conflict resolution. Understand and respect other points of view and backgrounds.

All of these skills fall under the “emotional social” category and helping children learn them builds their ability to absorb academic lessons and is crucial for their well-being, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Posamentier.

Schools reported an increase this year fights, threats and disturbances between studentsand the US Surgeon General in December warned of the “urgent need” to address a mental health crisis in children, noting an increase in depression and anxiety.

“I worry that Florida is inadvertently suppressing practices and strategies that build resilience in children when that’s actually what they really want to do,” he added.

The idea of ​​”social-emotional learning,” a term coined in 1997, is to help children learn “the skills everyone needs to get along in life,” said Maurice Elias, professor of psychology at Rutgers University and director of the university’s social department. -laboratory of emotional character.

It’s also an acknowledgment that kids who are upset — whether it’s because of an upset at home or a fight with a friend — tend to ignore schoolwork.

“If kids come into school and somebody thinks they can put their jackets in their locker, they can put their books in the locker, and they can put their emotions in the locker, then they don’t really understand children,” Elias said.

Incorporating “social-emotional learning” lessons into math books makes sense, they added, because many students find the subject difficult and even anxiety-provoking.

Florida students have struggled with math during the pandemic. The percentage of elementary and middle school students passing the Florida Standards Assessment math exam, for example, fell to 51% in 2021 from 61% in 2019.

“I would note that math anxiety is one thing; so hopefully any math text series will include something to help alleviate that,” Walter Secada, a professor in the University of Miami’s Department of Teaching and Learning, agreed in an email.

Secada, whose academic field is math education, has consulted on elementary school math textbooks in the past, but not on books recently rejected by Florida.

The Florida Department of Education, which announced the rejection of textbooks two weeks ago, did not respond to questions about its opposition to ‘social-emotional learning’ or how it differs from skills requirements listed in the new law. He also declined to provide specific reasons why each manual was rejected.

In a June memo to textbook editors, he called “social-emotional learning” “unsolicited strategies” not aligned with state standards.

The term “socio-emotional learning,” often dubbed SEL, has become one that some conservatives have lumped together with other topics they believe have been wrongly infused into public education.

The Florida Citizens Alliance – which targeted textbooks it considered pro-Islamic and is now pushing for books it finds offensive to be removed from school libraries – called it was one of the “many tentacles” of critical race theory in a tweet last year.

Critical race theory, first proposed by legal scholars, asserts that racism is embedded in the institutions of the country. Historically, it was a law school or graduate school subject and not a subject taught in public schools.

But critics, like the alliance, say its principles have seeped into K-12 classrooms in an effort to make white children feel guilty and teach students to hate the United States. Some see the CRT in its efforts to promote diversity and equity, and they tie into “social-emotional learning” because its proponents say it helps create more equitable schools.

At DeSantis’s urging, the State Board of Education banned the teaching of CRT in June, and the The Florida Legislature passed its “anti-revival” legislation this spring.

The state said some textbooks were rejected because they didn’t align well with Florida’s new math standards, but half were rejected because they included topics banned by the state: CRT , “social-emotional learning”, “culturally appropriate teaching as it relates to CRT”, and “social justice as it relates to CRT”.

When the state announced the textbook rejections, every school district in central Florida — as well as most of the state’s largest districts, from Duval County to Polk County to Broward County — had already selected new mathematics textbooks for elementary schools. All ended up on the state’s new “not recommended” list.

Educators chose the textbooks from a list released by the state in May, selecting those they felt best met Florida’s new math standards. They were prepared to spend millions of dollars — more than $25 million in Orange County alone — to have the new textbooks on campuses when the new school year begins in August.

Florida passed new math standards that are to be implemented in the 2022-23 school year, creating the need for new math books.

Now, many districts are waiting to see if editors will appeal or make changes. The Education Department announced on Thursday that nine textbooks had returned to the approved list after publishers made changes, in part by “removing woke content.”

A review of K-5 math books chosen by Lake, Osceola, Orange and Seminole schools but rejected by the state found no obvious lessons based on race. But the books included advice intended to offer encouragement or explain how to approach problems – lessons that could be classified as “social-emotional learning”, even if the term was not used.

“When we do math, we work together,” reads a first-grade book from McGraw Hill, the series chosen by Lake and Osceola schools. “We listen to our friends and our teachers. We think about other people’s ideas.

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A fifth-grade text asks, “How can you work well with a classmate even when you disagree?”

K-5 math books chosen by Savvas Learning Company, Orange and Seminole Schools, tell second graders, “Encourage others. Tell your partners they can do it! and “Think about your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. They can help you learn!

It is unclear, however, if these passages were the reason these books were rejected.

Nearly a week after rejecting the textbooks, the Education Department released four examples of objectionable math questions sent in by the public, but did not specify which textbooks they came from. Two dealt with data on racism and two noted that there would be lessons on “social-emotional learning”, although he did not describe them.

Elias, the Rutgers professor, said he was intrigued by Florida’s decision to reject textbooks with such lessons.

“So many kids aren’t doing their best because of anxiety,” Elias said. “You do it proactively. You integrate it into the teaching of mathematics,” he added. “It makes perfect sense.”

lpostal@orlandosentinel.com

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