Ron’s Math Doesn’t Add Up

Ron’s Math Doesn’t Add Up

Ron DeSantis says he is working to make education work for students but he’s getting it all wrong.

Last week I dispensed a story of my experience learning how to build a grill. It’s all documented here, but to give you a brief summary, I was lamenting how bad the experience was, while highlighting the way hands on learning resulted in a new skill (unlike reading instructions). Assembling a new grill is not just the planning stages of a cookout. It’s an emotional experience.

This week, Ron DeSantis is trying to tell me the way I learn is irresponsible. I think this is unfair because not only does science support my tactile learning style, but so do gender stereotypes. We all know men hate reading instructions, and would rather figure things out on their own. In fact, a retro gender stereotype expands on men’s problems with taking instruction. As it goes, men refuse to stop and ask for directions when lost, aggravating their generally female significant others beyond all get out. Thankfully, the type has been retired with the rise of “smart” phones, removing the risk of us male types fearing that we’ll seem otherwise if we have to ask a question of anyone other than Siri.

Well it’s also a gender stereotype to avoid one’s feeling(s) because it doesn’t seem “manly” enough. Of course one of the greatest fears of Floridian Governors (or anyone dealing with toxic masculinity) is to seem like something other than “manly” (which can present as an austere personality, lots of throat clearing and a general lack of feelings other than anger).

Manliness, while popular amongst some groups of men, can have a tendency to backfire in a number of ways. For example, manliness sometimes comes with a bad sense of fashion, but also (and more importantly) the inability to manage one's emotions. It’s most often presented as bouts of uncontrollable anger like road rage, or being easily triggered by certain words.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been showing signs of manli-nitis as of late. It is certainly a paradoxical disease because the fear of emotional vulnerability comes from underdeveloped emotional intelligence and as a result, it rears its ugly head in the form of uncontrolled and sometimes extreme emotions.

This past week, Florida was in the news for its government banning certain math books because they incorporated elements of Social and Emotional Learning (let’s call this SEL from here on out). SEL is a well researched model for learning that is described as an integral part of education and human development by CASEL, a network that brings together educators and researchers who study SEL. The SEL approach recognizes that learning involves not just solutions to problems, but the context in which people navigate them, which require interpersonal (social and emotional) skills, and learning happens within the context of someone’s life as well.

Illustration of a chalkboard

Ron expressed a disdain for SEL and any suggestion of incorporating emotional awareness into education. The recent ban of books (many on the subject of math) was based on Ron and his administration’s criticism of the apparent presence of SEL in the selection of books they banned.

On the subject, Ron says the following. “Math is about getting the right answer,” he said. “And we want kids to learn to think so they get the right answer. It’s not about how you feel about the problem.”

But math isn’t just about getting the right answer. It’s also about understanding how to use that answer.

I don’t even think Ron believes his own comment deep down. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I think Ron is simply triggered by words like “feelings” or “social” and “emotional” – especially when the latter two are used together.

Like you said Ron, it’s not about how you feel about the problem. To Ron’s point, the way he feels about decades of research or hundreds of studies won’t change the findings. Voters want their elected officials to think so they can get the right answer, and according to the experts, incorporating the principles of SEL lead to more effective learning for students. Here’s was CASEL says on their website:

...

The benefits of social and emotional learning (SEL) are well-researched, with evidence demonstrating that an education that promotes SEL yields positive results for students, adults, and school communities.

SEL has a powerful combination of evidence and support. The findings below come from multiple fields and sources and include analyses of hundreds of studies that show SEL leads to beneficial outcomes related to: social and emotional skills; attitudes about self, school, and civic engagement; social behaviors; conduct problems; emotional distress; and academic performance.

In addition, the surveys published below by CASEL and partners show teachers, principals, parents, and students agree: SEL is essential.

...

Honestly, regardless of what the experts have concluded, we may need to rethink the way we speak to Ron because it might make him feel bad. It’s obvious that a mathematical truth can trigger some manly extreme right governors.

DeSantis himself was a schoolteacher, a history teacher specifically, although that only lasted for a year. One can only assume why the education field was not a fit for him, but naturally I suspect that politics was a better fit because in politics you can ignore history and math is easier because you get to make up your own numbers. I picture him spending most of his class time yelling to the students “LEARN TO THINK! GET THE RIGHT ANSWER” at the top of his lungs, which is not too far off from the methods he’s recommending to the schools of Florida.

Timothy Dohrer, director of teacher leadership at Northwestern University described this as shortsighted, saying “If you asked 100 C.E.O.s what skills they want in a new hire, the top five skills are going to be about social-emotional learning — not algebra,”

Trigger Words

The benefits of SEL are obvious, because those that don’t have such developmental opportunities could turn out like Ron, where proven frameworks cause an emotional reaction, and as we know, that can put a damper on someone’s learning. Ron’s math might be an example of this.

After passing the famously criticized "Parental Rights in Education" bill (also known by its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill), Disney, who initially remained quiet, decided to speak out against it. Ron, in another emotionally triggered moment, threw a fit and retaliated by revoking the tax status that designates Disney’s 38 square mile land area as a dedicated tax district for infrastructure reasons.

Here’s where the math gets bad. According to the Orange County tax collector, this change reduces Disney’s taxes and permanently deletes some of the county revenues, and ultimately costs the State $1 billion to pay off debts otherwise paid by Disney. To be fair, as a person who’s dabbled in teaching history, DeSantis is not expected to be good at math, and neither is a state governor, but he sure showed them didn’t he?

If you spend much time on the internet, you might see people saying that free speech is at risk. DeSantis himself celebrated Elon Musk buying Twitter as a win for free speech (despite Twitter not being the Government which is what the First Amendment refers to).

If the First Amendment is at risk, it’s because of people like Ron Desantis who will ban books because he feels threatened by their content. It’s because of bills like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill which aim at the rights of teachers, and more importantly the rights of real children and real families with LGBTQ family members who are not going away.

Could it be Ron’s lack of emotional development that’s caused him to react this way? I would suspect that Ron could have benefited from a little social and emotional learning himself.

So are Ron’s executive actions the right answer, or is it just how he feels about the problem?


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