Florida waiver of 42 mat textbooks to include “forbidden” topics obscure a more subtle and important problem: decades of educational research are confronted with American views on freedom and morality.
The books were rejected because they included new forbidden topics such as socio-emotional learning and critical racial theory. At a recent press conference, Florida Gov. from Republicans Ron DeSantis announced that “Mathematics is about getting the right answer. . . . It’s not about how you treat the problem. “
However, educators point to a huge amount of research showing that how students relate to a math problem is indeed crucial.
In the past, American education combined content with character, and most of us will agree that both are the foundation of success. However, as the agreement on core values is eroding, teachers are facing a new political battle that challenges the role of emotions in learning – and especially in learning to think for themselves – against the desire to control the content students learn. Should the school be more about the learning process to think about, or about the content, the right answers and what to think?
Research tells us what confidence and mood are the result of the way we talk to ourselves about what is happening to us. Confidence and optimism are temporary and need to be constantly created: when we tell ourselves that our missed catch, social error, sales error, or wrong answer are personal, constant, and ubiquitous (what a psychologist Martin Seligman calls our “explanatory style”), Then we are less stable and give up more often.
When a student gets one of those wrong answers that worries the governor of Florida, how they think about it is actually very important. Those at Stanford Carol Dweck calls a “It simply came to our notice then”See this wrong answer as an opportunity for learning and growth – and this thinking opens the door to greater growth.
If you believe you can make yourself smarter, stronger or better, research says you can.
Students with “fixed thinking”, however, believe that intelligence, skills and talent are fixed, and every failure only confirms the limits of their abilities. They believe they cannot do better, and this faith becomes self-fulfilling.
Teachers have long known that perseverance in the face of failure is very important for learning, and in the past parents seemed to agree. Whether it’s a new label of “socio-emotional learning,” or just the growing politicization of school curricula, a new suspicion is emerging around this established science. Most Americans do not want educators or government officials to tell parents what they can tell their children, and some parents are beginning to see teachers and textbooks advocating and promoting a positive mental attitude toward successful living as an encroachment on their parental rights.
We need to discuss the real tension between parents who want to raise their children the way they see fit (even if they want to tell them they are stupid and will never be good at math) and teachers who contradict it (tell them they are not stupid and can learn math).
The vast majority of teachers are reluctant to teach students to think: we want to see our students surpass us and learn to think for themselves. Democracy requires, and teachers want, students to learn to think, and when they graduate, they no longer need a teacher to tell them what is fact and what is fiction.
Education is somewhat reminiscent of fitness training. The person who does the work benefits, and watching a teacher do push-ups is not so helpful (even if it’s intellectual push-ups). Some instructions on how to best push-ups are helpful, but ultimately the way to learn or get in shape is to get the job done. Good coaches and teachers motivate students to do more push-ups.
Teachers want to make sure students have the right answers, but also develop a character to withstand the wrong ones.
What Florida calls “socio-emotional learning” is indeed a form of motivation and comes from research which confirms the link between success and resilience, or what some call character (and indeed, so far much of the criticism of resilience and thinking has come from some on the left, arguing that these notions lead to blaming victims). As Einstein said, “I never teach my students; I’m just trying to create an environment in which they can learn. ” These conditions, even and perhaps especially in mathematics, include self-belief, confidence, and resilience.
Scientists like it Seligman, Duek and Duckworth have given us a much better understanding of how our thinking and feelings of failure affect our perseverance and future success. While it sounds reasonable to argue that teachers should just teach 2 + 2 = 4, the real problem is, what happens when we answer 3?
Will we stop trying? Do we remember the correct answer (temporarily)? Or will we instead have faith in ourselves to tell ourselves that we are learning from mistakes and that we have just learned something that can change us and our future?
Some parents and politicians, however, see this whole emphasis on self-belief as crossing the educational boundary from content to character, and they are right. A generation or two ago there was a broader agreement on the values that American education should instill: sharing, telling the truth, working hard, and freedom and justice for all.
As parents and school boards become more polarized around the causes of injustice (opportunity or character), understanding how emotions and identity affect how and what we believe has led science and teachers to clash with some parents and politicians. But self-belief, firmness and the ability to think for yourself are components of character and contribute to education. Who can teach these values (parents or teachers) should and will be challenged. Traditionally, the left has objected to the inclusion of character in the debate on inequality (seeing opportunities and justice as real problems), but now the right also objects to learning positive character traits.
Teachers have long sought to teach students to think without teaching them what to think. This is not a completely achievable goal: teachers really have a real impact! Americans now need to have real conversations about the values we share that can help students and democracy thrive in the future.
This piece is about Ban textbooks in Florida and SEL was made Hechinger’s report, a non-profit independent information organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Subscribe to Hechinger Bulletin.