Jewish divorce joke used in Florida textbook branded ‘antisemitic’ by activists

It was discovered during a review of all the textbooks used by public schools in the state


A joke about Jews in a maths textbook in Florida has been branded antisemitic after an audit of educational materials by the state's right-wing administration.

Activists have been undertaking a review of all textbooks being used in the state following accusations that publishers were trying to “indoctrinate” students into what have been described as “liberal” concepts, such as the controversial “critical race theory”.

One activist flagged a book with a number of Jewish jokes, including one that was flagged as antisemitic: “Why do Jewish divorces cost so much? Because they’re worth it.”

The joke is originally attributed to Henny Youngman, the late Jewish American comedian famous for his one-liners.

It was included in the seventh edition of the textbook “Thinking Mathematically” by Rob Blitzer, released in 2019, in a chapter on “Counting Methods and Probability Theory”.

The passage with the joke lists six jokes about marriage and divorce, of which one was attributed to Socrates, and the other five to US comedians. Four of those comedians are Jewish, and two are women.

The students are asked: “In how many ways can these jokes be ranked from best to worst?” Another question reads: “In how many ways can people select their favourite joke told by a woman and their three favourite jokes told by a man?”

The specific passage was identified by ‘Moms for Liberty’ member Chris Allen, one of 83 activists who volunteered and participated in the textbook review, according to The Washington Post.

The aim was for reviewers to flag books that included concepts such as “critical race theory” and social-emotional learning that conservatives are currently objecting to.

The reviewers were also searching for references to the “Common Core”, which is a set of standards created through a non-partisan effort to define what American schoolchildren should know in Maths and English at the end of each grade.

Florida’s Republican administration repealed the “Common Core” standards in favour of “Florida State Standards” in 2020.

The book “Thinking Mathematically” was flagged as not appropriate by Allen because it referred to climate change as fact, despite the scientific consensus, as well as a problem that referred to the decreasing white population of the US, and another that used data about implicit bias, which was labelled as “critical race theory", JTA reports.

It is unclear if the book was removed from the approved list due to Allen’s review, or if there were other reasons for the decision.

The book will no longer be available to public schools in Florida, and a spokesperson for Pearson, the publisher, told JTA that the joke had been removed in a previous internal review and is not included in the most recent edition, released this spring.

The spokesperson said: “We conducted a review of ‘Thinking Mathematically’ last year
and removed this example, which does not comply with our editorial standards and commitment to learning experiences that are free of bias and stereotyping.

“The current version of this book does not include this content, but we take full responsibility that it appeared in previous editions. We have put policies in place to ensure our new books are inclusive for every student and free of stereotyping.”

In a statement in April, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis accused some textbook publishers of trying to “slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students.”

Florida’s Education Department said last month that it had rejected 41 per cent of books in its review - “the most in Florida’s history. At least 24 of those received high scores from official state reviewers, but were rejected anyway.

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