The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Florida asks publishers to revise more books to avoid ‘indoctrination’

Social studies texts must avoid certain topics to comply with a new law.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the "Stop Woke" bill at a charter school in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., last month. (Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald/AP)
3 min

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s efforts to eradicate any hint of “wokeness” in the state’s public school textbooks continued with the release of guidance to publishers of social studies books.

Publishers who want their textbooks to be considered for use in the state must avoid “Critical Race Theory, Social Justice, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Social and Emotional Learning, and any other unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination are prohibited," the guidelines state.

The rules for social studies textbook content are similar to those the state issued last month for math textbooks. State education officials initially rejected 54 of the 132 math books on its adoption list — most of them elementary level. Some of the books were blocked because they included “prohibited topics” and “unsolicited strategies,” officials said in a statement, such as critical race theory, a catchall term used by conservatives for teachings on race and racism.

Since then, 40 of the books have been approved by the state Department of Education.

“Publishers are aligning their instructional materials to state standards and removing WOKE CONTENT,” the Department of Education website said.

It is unclear what changes were made by publishers to get the books approved. One executive with a textbook publisher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said the company changed nothing in the books that were initially rejected and are now approved.

“When cooler heads prevailed and the dust settled, the professionals in the department of education didn’t see any problems,” the person said.

Publishers have until June 10 to submit their social studies books. If approved, they will be distributed to schools beginning in 2023 for use through 2028.

DeSantis has been working to restrict classroom discussions on topics including race, racism, gender and history. Last year, his administration set new rules banning critical race theory, and he recently signed into law H.B. 7, also known as the Stop Woke Act, to “give businesses, employees, children and families tools to stand up against discrimination and woke indoctrination,” according to a statement from his office.

DeSantis has successfully lobbied for legislation to mandate what he believes should and should not be taught in public schools. He recently signed a law that created a new state holiday known as “Victims of Communism Day,” on which public schools are required to teach students about communist regimes such as those in the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Venezuela.

Behind much of the legislation, including the Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed the “don’t say gay” law by critics, is the power for parents to sue school boards if they feel the prohibited subjects are being taught.

Pinellas County history teacher Brandt Robinson said the “anti-woke” guidelines aren’t as troubling for teachers, because theories such as critical race are not taught. But the threat of lawsuits is chilling.

“I think it’s going to lead to districts having to increase the budgets for their legal teams,” Robinson, a teacher for more than 20 years, said. “They’re using that term, critical race theory, to describe anything that’s related to talking about race or racism or systemic oppression. So it’s very difficult to fight back.”