Another set of materials approved for use in Florida classrooms has come under fire, with some saying it could indoctrinate students.
Eight Pasco County residents have objected to the school board’s adoption of the “Foundations in Personal Finance” textbook by Dave Ramsey, the internet financial advice personality. Ramsey, whose shows are listened to by millions of people, has said frequently that he bases his teachings and advice on evangelical Christian beliefs, and sprinkles Bible verses throughout the pages.
Calls and emails to his company Ramsey Solutions were not returned.
Opponents of the book, often used by home schooling families, argue it tells students what to think rather than how to think about personal finance, a course that lawmakers recently set as a high school graduation requirement. They suggest it runs counter to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ insistence that schools educate, not indoctrinate.
They point to the book’s insistence that students never should use credit cards or take loans as one example of how its bias does not align with state standards, which include lessons on proper use of debt.
“I object to the teaching of this material and biblical quotes and rhetoric written by the author, who also is a well known right-wing media spokesperson,” parent Mark Young of Wesley Chapel wrote in his petition urging the district to reconsider the book.
“Bible verses do not belong in public schools,” wrote parent Brian Kelley of Land O’ Lakes. “And Dave Ramsey isn’t qualified to provide (instruction) in a secular classroom.”
Jessica Wright, an Odessa parent and veteran teacher, suggested the materials are as wrong for the schools as the state-approved videos distributed by PragerU, also supported by a conservative radio talk show host. PragerU has acknowledged its intent to indoctrinate children with its civics and government lessons, which often parrot Republican political talking points.
The Pasco district has told teachers not to use the PragerU videos.
Wright, also a board member of the anti-censorship group Florida Freedom to Read, further objected to places in the book that refer to impoverished families as “busted” and “broke.” She stated that such demeaning language paired with instruction to eschew debt for expenses that might be necessary to make ends meet is not proper to put before students.
“It’s not appropriate to shame our Title I kids,” she said, referring to the federal designation for low-income students.
Instructional assistant Bertell Butler IV raised additional questions. During a June public hearing, Butler pointed out how the book frequently refers to various Ramsey publications to make its points rather than using other experts.
He called the book a “one-issue case study in debt, sprinkled with economics here and there,” and suggested the materials could create fixed mindsets without considering aspects of financial insecurity that make it difficult to live debt free.
“I’m surprised we’re even considering it,” Butler said.
One of the state’s three expert reviewers shared some similar concerns about the material, even while recommending the book for adoption.
“Most information infers Mr. Dave Ramsey as the expert due to content references on financial literacy with a biased view on some financial literacy education concepts,” wrote Reviewer 2, whose name was not provided.
Reviewer 3, also unnamed, wrote that the text includes some “very good lessons” and is “clear and easy to understand,” but did not recommend it for adoption: ”I do find that there is a spillage of his views into the text. Of course that is what the author believes, but ... inclusion of other primary source documents and thinking from other economists would make this text a little more analytical and keep to economic theory as well as accepted finance practices.”
Pasco school district officials said they did not detect major problems with the Ramsey book.
“I didn’t have concerns about it,” School Board member Colleen Beaudoin said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have voted for it. ... I respected the work of the (district review) committee.”
Lea Mitchell, the district’s director of Leading and Learning, said the review process showed that the book aligned to standards and was usable for teachers, who preferred it over other options. She said teachers did not raise red flags about the book advancing religion, noting that the chapters also include quotes from Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou and other notable thinkers.
“We have not inspected every one of our curriculum resources for the use of proverbs to drive home points,” Mitchell said.
She did not consider the Ramsey textbook as similar to the PragerU videos.
“I would not categorize them in the same level of intensity for bias,” Mitchell said.
That’s in keeping with national perspective. When the PragerU videos won state approval, pushback came immediately. The Aug. 18 addition of the Ramsey book to Florida’s approved list caused barely a ripple outside Pasco County.
“This is a new one for me,” said Jonathan Friedman, who monitors book censorship debates for New York-based PEN America. “I haven’t seen this one elsewhere.”
Patrick Elliott, senior counsel at the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, said he had not heard of complaints about the materials, either.
Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association teachers union, said he was aware of Ramsey’s religious slant. But he, too, said objections to the book — which has been used in other states such as Wyoming — haven’t come his way.
The Pasco objectors will get a chance to make their case before a hearing officer within the coming month. The school board on Monday selected former Pinellas school board lawyer Jim Robinson as its first choice to hear the arguments and make a recommendation to the board as it reconsiders its adoption vote.
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