Conservative review of Florida math books reveals joke about Jews

JTA — In a purge over accusations that textbook publishers were trying to “indoctrinate” students in supposedly liberal concepts, Florida has rejected the use of dozens of math books in schools across the country. the state.

One contained a series of Jewish jokes – including one that a conservative activist called anti-Semitic: “Why are Jewish divorces so expensive? Because they are worth it. »

The joke is attributed to Henny Youngman, the late Jewish comedian, and was included in the book “Thinking Mathematically,” by Rob Blitzer, in a chapter on “Counting Methods and Probability Theory.” The joke appears in the seventh edition of the book, released in 2019.

Chris Allen, who is involved with the conservative group Moms for Liberty and was one of 83 volunteers who participated in the Florida textbook review, identified the joke, the Washington Post noted in a new story about Florida education officials explaining why they rejected 41% of math texts.

Reviewers were expected to point out when books included “critical race theory,” social-emotional learning, or Common Core references, standards that were created through a nonpartisan effort to elevate and align what students Americans teach, but which then became a political handicap. for conservatives.

Allen pointed to “Thinking Mathematically” for accepting climate change as fact, which is the scientific consensus; for an issue that referred to America’s dwindling white population; and for a problem that used data on implicit bias, which she said reflected critical race theory. She also flagged Youngman’s joke as anti-Semitic.

It’s unclear whether the Education Department selected “Think Mathematically” for removal because of the Allen review or for other reasons.

The passage that includes Youngman’s joke begins with “Thousands of jokes have been told about marriage and divorce”, and lists six of them, one attributed to Socrates and the other five to American comedians. Four of the comedians are Jewish: In addition to Youngman, there are jokes from Rita Rudner, Woody Allen and Rodney Dangerfield. A fifth joke is from Phyllis Diller, who was not Jewish. It’s unclear whether Blitzer, the Manhattan-born and educated author, is Jewish.

“How many ways can these jokes be ranked from best to worst?” students are asked. Another question is, “How many ways can people select their favorite joke told by a woman (Rudner or Diller) and their three favorite jokes told by a man?”

English-born American comedian Henny Youngman (1906-1998) plays the violin as he performs on stage at Park West, Chicago on December 31, 1978. (Paul Natkin/Getty Images via JTA)

In his preface, Blitzer writes, “My main purpose in writing this book was to show students how mathematics can be applied to their lives in interesting, enjoyable, and meaningful ways.” He says he “wrote the book to help various students, with different backgrounds and career plans.”

In a note to students, Blitzer says, “Who said a math textbook couldn’t be entertaining? From our eye-catching cover to photos of the opening chapters and sections, prepare for the unexpected. I hope some of the enrichment trials in the book, called Blitzer Bonuses, will put a smile on your face once in a while.

“Thinking Mathematically” will not be available in Florida public schools after textbook revisions. The jokes will not be available to purchasers of the book.

A spokesperson for Pearson, the publisher, said the joke was removed following the company’s review and does not appear in the most recent edition, which was published this spring.

“We conducted a review of ‘Thinking Mathematically’ last year and removed this example, which does not meet our editorial standards and our commitment to learning experiences free of bias and stereotypes,” said said the spokesperson. “The current version of this book does not include this content, but we take full responsibility that it appeared in previous editions. We have policies in place to ensure that our new books are inclusive for all students and free from stereotypes.”

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