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It’s no secret that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will be preparing for the presidential race. For liberal parents in other states dusting off their pink hats, they’d be better served keeping an eye on the textbooks their local school boards are considering in the next few years. DeSantis, along with his Florida allies, could effectively be picking the reading list from far.
In 20 states, the governor picks what classes will be held in each classroom. This is in return for full-fledged book orders. This gives the states that have large numbers of students a lot of influence over what choices are made in other states. Publishers operate as businesses and seek the largest markets. The publishers don’t have incentives to create Red State textbooks and Blue State textbooks. While states and districts can request specific line editing, the Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee is unable to compel large publishers to produce the same textbooks on a similar scale. That’s why DeSantis is set to be the de facto arbiter of what millions of students—even outside of Florida—are learning. All this is done to keep the children safe from math-mashing wokeness.
The two Texas giants were publishers for many years. The New York Times in 2020 published an eye-opening and detailed comparison of one publisher’s telling of the American story—by the same authors—and found two very different versions of the country’s history based on in what state a student took social studies. Take, for example, the Times found a publisher inserted into a discussion of the Harlem Renaissance an observation that critics “dismissed the quality of the literature produced” for Texas audiences. In earlier Texas versions dating to 2014, Moses was listed among the Founding Fathers’ influences.
It was long assumed that publishers would adapt to chase California’s 6.5 million students and Texas’ 5.5 million. The national average of 51 million students is enrolled in public K-12 schools. Florida already has an official list with approved textbooks that it uses for its nearly 2.9 million students. But, publishers were able to easily make slight changes and adapt the Texas books to Florida’s needs. The New Yorker reports that sympathies for the NRA translate easily between Houston and Pensacola. Times’ Gail Collins was found in a different project.
This behind-the-scenes effort at indoctrinating students into their states’ mythologies is now pushing into public view, with DeSantis crowing about his fight to shape young minds. Even Texas’ conservative textbook would be insufficient for DeSantis. The figure who is seen as a strong contender in 2024—especially if former President Donald Trump ends up sitting out the race—gathered reporters on Monday to promote the fact that his state education department rejected 42 of 132 textbooks proposed for the next school year.
What was their sin? The math texts seemed, in the estimation of Florida’s reviewers, to teach critical race theory and social-emotional learning, both considered verboten for conservatives who see wokeness creeping into their kids’ classrooms and, in the words of PuckWoke war III is on the horizon. Nearly half of all math texts were rejected. Little explanation was given about how to use geometry theorems and word problems for teaching.
DeSantis is betting his political future—or at least the chapter where he seeks the GOP nomination—on the far right’s obsession with government overreach and its threat to kids. (TIME’s Olivia B. Waxman wrote a cover story for the magazine last year that unpacked why some activists are so deeply—and wrongly—worried that a graduate-level approach to policy analysis is teaching white kids to hate themselves under the guise of critical race theory.) Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s political editor branded DeSantis “the chief of the woke police.” During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, he emerged as the primary foil to Anthony Fauci, all but declaring coronavirus over in Florida. DeSantis signed a state proclamation declaring a female Florida swimmer the “rightful winner” of the NCAA championship after she came up short to an opponent who is transgender. He has signed into law a measure that explicitly bans schools from teaching students in third grade and younger anything about sexual orientation or gender identity. TIME’s Madeleine Carlisle has the details on the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law here.
And DeSantis is poised in coming weeks to sign into law the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” which makes it illegal for companies or schools to conduct trainings that could make people uncomfortable about the actions of their ancestors. It’s a sweeping measure that would protect the feelings of white people—and one that other states are considering as the latest chapter of the culture wars spreads from coast to coast. These moves helped DeSantis become a favourite 2024 candidate of the Fox News crowd.
DeSantis follows in the footsteps other White House hopefuls by driving a statehouse agenda. One of DeSantis’ predecessors, Jeb Bush, used his time in Tallahassee to emerge as a champion of an education overhaul on a national stage. Former Texas governor. Rick Perry oversaw the state’s strong economic growth, fueled by low taxes and dramatically basement-level regulation, which then enticed major companies to relocate to his state. And Mitt Romney’s turn as Massachusetts’ Governor made him into a leader on health care, an accomplishment that would haunt him as his policy’s central plank would help build Obamacare.
DeSantis’ style of courting grievance might be the right way to win a primary in a Republican Party that has, at least since 2015, decided to preach from the gospel of Trumpism. But his efforts miss this fact: Americans writ large don’t really care about this in the same way as kitchen-table issues like taxes and healthcare. According to polling, most Americans are supportive of teaching AllHistorical evidence shows that white people have been favored historically in this country. Republicans’ losses in 2018 and Trump’s defeat in 2020 should give the GOP some concerns. DeSantis has the fundamentals of a skilled political effort, but those alone can’t get him into the White House. After all, Jeb Bush, Perry, and Romney all resonated with a loud corner of the Republican Party, but didn’t electrify a national audience. But in the meantime, DeSantis could end up picking kids’ math worksheets from Santa Fe to Charlotte—power that might tee up his national ambitions.
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