Two new Holocaust-focused textbooks were denied by Florida’s state education department for use in the classroom, while at least one other textbook had to change a paragraph concerning the Hebrew Bible to gain official approval.
The books were rejected as part of a more extensive examination of new K–12 social studies textbooks.
The education department did not authorize any new readers on the Holocaust this year, according to papers released by the state.
When contacted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a press representative for the department was unable to confirm whether older Holocaust textbooks that are currently in use can still be used for instruction in the state.
The state has made an effort to crack down on what Republican governor Ron DeSantis refers to schools as “woke indoctrination,” mainly involving race and gender.
The most recent illustration of how that drive is also affecting Jewish themes is the rejection of the textbooks.
One of this year’s rejected Holocaust textbooks was named “Modern Genocides,” and the other was an online course titled “History of the Holocaust.”
Both were geared toward high school pupils. The department did not specify which prohibited “special topics” the book contains. “Modern Genocides” was rejected in part for its treatment of “special topics” forbidden by the state, a list that includes terms like “social justice” and “critical race theory.”
The state’s educational evaluation committee, which analyzes whether a book satisfies state criteria for instruction on its topic, gave both rejected books low marks.
DeSantis has improved Holocaust education while also giving parents the ability to successfully have any Holocaust literature removed from school libraries that they don’t like.
In Florida, students K–12 must get a Holocaust education, and DeSantis enacted legislation in 2020 requiring public schools to prove that they do so. However, a law passed last year enables parents to contest educational materials and books in public school libraries, and parents in the state have filed objections that have caused Holocaust literature (including a new adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary) to be temporarily or permanently removed because they are offensive.
The “Stop WOKE Act,” another regulation, forbids teachers from instilling in students feelings of guilt or shame in connection with historical events. The state education administration also restricts the teaching of “critical race theory,” a term that Republicans have derogatorily used to describe discussions of structural racism in the United States but which typically refers to a form of legal analysis.
Additionally, Republicans in the state legislature recently approved a bill that would outlaw the teaching of “critical theory” in institutions of higher learning that receive state funding; according to experts, this shift could endanger the education of Jewish studies. DeSantis has not yet made that legislation law.
“To maintain our high standards, we must ensure that our students and teachers have access to the best resources, particularly those that focus on historical context.
On Tuesday, the state’s education department revealed that it had approved 66 of 101 new social studies textbook submissions under its new criteria—some only after the publishers consented to significant content revisions.
The other 35 textbooks that were submitted were turned down. Florida last examined social studies textbooks in 2017, though state records do not specify what proportion of those books were approved and what proportion were refused.
The authorities made no specific comments about how the Holocaust was not sufficiently included in the books. A request for a response from JTA was forwarded to the press office of the education department’s Bureau of Standards and Instructional Support, which oversees reviews of instructional materials. However, the press office did not respond before the deadline.
Likewise, JTA’s attempts for comment from the two Holocaust works’ publishers went unanswered. Florida is one of the largest textbook markets in the US because of the state’s high population of school-age children. This year, some social studies textbook publishers preemptively removed references to race and segregation from their books to compete in the market.
Meanwhile, the department was required to change a reference to the Hebrew Bible in another social studies textbook meant for grades 6–8 to comply with state requirements. By official records, the book’s first draft asked, “What social justice issues are included in the Hebrew Bible?”
The state changed that to a version that was authorized, changing “social justice issues” to “key principles” because the previous text included “politically charged language when referencing the Hebrew Bible.”