School subjects

Sensitive school subjects are not dangerous, they are essential to education

The Governor of Florida and his team made national news by rejecting textbooks recommended for use in elementary and middle school math classrooms. Their objections are apparently based on claims that 41% of the books continued to rely on outdated Common Core standards, included references to critical race theory, and/or included passages related to social learning and emotional.

Next year will likely bring a tougher revision season, with stronger divisions: K-12 social studies textbooks are to be considered for adoption in schools across the state. Heads of state are likely to assert with confidence that social studies textbooks contain topics which, as education commissioner Richard Corcoran has asserted of some mathematics textbooks, could lead to “the ‘indoctrination or exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts in our classrooms’.

Should Florida teenagers be kept out of thoughtful classroom exploration of social topics such as the following, which would likely be banned if they appeared in a textbook under the governor’s current criteria: violence in ‘school ; the contributions of the Latinx community to the arts and sciences of Florida; questions concerning national and international political trends; the impact of climate change on Florida’s coastal cities; and the links between poverty and health? These are troubling questions, but they have real social substance and they matter to 21st century students. They should not be excluded from education in today’s public schools for fear of discomfort or division.

Most of us would agree that one of the goals of public education is for today’s teens to become engaged citizens. To achieve this goal, it is essential to focus on the historical events that have shaped the culture and society of the United States. Will the state prevent students from reading about such topics as slavery, Japanese internment camps, anti-Semitism, and the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Massacre? These are violent and ugly realities that, along with beautiful moments, have shaped the deeply nuanced society of the multicultural United States.

One of the teacher’s roles is to help students approach these and other sensitive topics in a thoughtful, respectful, and competent way. Teachers are adults with whom students are placed to talk seriously. Additionally, students’ cognitive growth is enhanced when teachers present these challenging topics with practices grounded in concern for students’ social and emotional well-being, which is simply their ability to feel and show empathy and to make positive decisions. A large body of research conducted over the past two decades has demonstrated a clear and consistent link between cognitive growth and social-emotional learning (SEL). Pairing cognitive and SEL growth goals is not a polemical or political idea, but good classroom practice.

The state’s micromanagement of school materials is perhaps surprising, but the broader context of leadership decisions is far more worrisome. On April 14, EdWeek Research Center/Merrimack College released the results of a 2021-22 national teacher survey. The survey found that only 12% of today’s teachers are ‘very satisfied’ with their jobs, and 44% are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat likely’ to leave the profession in the next two years. . This percentage has doubled in ten years. Less than half would recommend teaching their “younger selves”.

The teachers are demoralized and tired. They want autonomy but have little of it. They quit their jobs, feeling they are no longer appreciated by leaders or the public who, as recently as the onset of the pandemic, honored their dedication. The profession itself is in real danger.

What can we do to help public education bounce back? Let’s show our leaders how to publicly support public education and educators in our communities. Imagine how much more effective public school teachers could be if they worked under conditions in which their expertise and professional judgment were recognized, appreciated and rewarded.

Urge our leaders to support the heroic work of teachers and teacher educators and to join Floridians of all political parties in encouraging the cognitive, social, and emotional development of all public school students. It’s time to work as a state to tap into the limitless potential of every Florida student and help them grow into critical thinkers and informed, engaged, and compassionate citizens.

Pamela Sissi Carroll is a recently retired dean and professor emeritus at UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education.