Feb. 11, 2023
There is no debate that the climate is always changing. However, there is debate whether human contributions to climate is an existential threat. We believe there is value at looking at all sides of this. However, that is not what was happening with the proposal to use the book, Two Degrees, by Alan Gratz for the One School, One Book program.
The program was halted in February 2023 in Kutztown Area School District (KASD) and we believe a reasonable compromise was found in that the ~50 copies of the book will remain in classrooms and in the library, enabling any student to read it if they wish.
In January 2023, the use of Gratz’s book was provided as an informational item at a School Curriculum meeting. The curriculum director explained the intent of the ‘One School, One Book’ program was to increase and engage students in literacy. The intent was that the book, to be read by all 6th-8th grade students, would also be incorporated across multiple classes in the Middle School. It would not just be a Language Arts class assignment, but would also extend into science, geography lessons, included in morning announcements, etc.
Overall, the idea of engaging children in a book and weaving it across school disciplines as suggested sounds like a great idea— with the right book.
Gratz’s book covers 4 different teens through 3 separate catastrophes to include children escaping from starving polar bears, a massive hurricane and wildfires. The theme throughout the book is all of these catastrophes are a result of man-made climate change, which was and is relatively easily preventable. No alternative views are discussed in the book. This alone would be enough justification to discontinue the program, but a deeper review of the book uncovers additional concerning material.
Five Reasons ‘Two Degrees’ Was The Wrong Choice
1. Climate Alarmism
The cover alone is meant to drive fear. The text unilaterally promotes the political left’s position of climate change in a way deliberately framed to make the child reader think anyone NOT opposing use of fossil fuels is directly responsible for natural disasters, man-eating polar bears AND the DEATHS associated with them. This is all meant to instill guilt and fear in the reader to promote the idea of awakening and revelation regarding climate change and spur the reader into activism. All the characters have moments of clarity and understand climate change as solely man-made, preventable, and the necessity to do something about it at all cost is imperative. Example: “You need to get your message in front of more people, get more kids like you fired up about climate change.” The book closes with the lead characters at a ‘Kids Against Climate Change’ rally.
Despite what you might hear, not all scientists agree and root causes, resolutions and urgency are not clear on man-made climate change! Scientists that don’t agree with the narrative are silenced or not given a voice. Much has already been done, at great expense, to improve emissions. Studies show the US significantly leads the way in CO2 reductions this century.
It is intellectually dishonest to only have the students read the selected book without spending an equal amount of time & learning dedicated to opposing views / data that show the climate has always been changing and there is no imminent global climate catastrophe to be afraid of. Presenting one side of the story on controversial issues is also in conflict with existing policies.
2. Fear through Graphic Catastrophes
We hear - and know - the mental health struggles many middle schoolers are experiencing. There is so much emphasis and programs about mental health. Given this, why would a proposed required reading program contain such heavy topics such as:
Kids being in a burning wildfire while separated from their family
A child in a hurricane who gets swept away from her mom
Children seeing dead, drowned bodies in a car under water
A polar bear attack that results in a gory, leg wound
Perhaps this reading program could have utilized a book with more uplifting content?
3. Critical Race Theory (CRT) Infused into Narrative
The ‘Two Degrees’ book promotes the political left's established position on critical race theory and race essentialism which started with the morning announcements to elementary students about white guilt and implicit bias. Each and every single character in the book is identified by their skin color. While in the eye of the hurricane, the lead character emerges and sees some things outside:
“an older white man staggering out from his hiding place”
“A latino family stepping tentatively out”
“A white family emerged blinking”
“A young black man emerged”
“A young black woman”...etc.
The very deliberate descriptions by skin color continue later in the book after the hurricane. Gratz describes a diversity of people selflessly helping each other, only to be interrupted by the only 2 white men mentioned in this book:
“Suddenly, a big white man in military fatigues and black mask stood in front of Natalie holding an automatic rifle. “Stop right there,” the man said, his voice hard. “Who are you and what do you want?” Natalie froze as a second white man in a black uniform and a black mask came behind the first. He had a huge rifle too, and on pieces of tape stuck to his bulletproof vest he’d written the words “you loot we shoot”
4. Political & Social Positions Trump Relationships
Adherence to political and social positions is put before some of the most important relational bonds with the main characters. The book provides an example to show readers it is necessary to sever relationships with older generations, specifically parents if they do not accept climate change as only man-made and able to be man-solved. It promotes the concept that parents are of an antagonistic mindset and are to be actively opposed. For example:
“but he [character's father] was dead wrong about what was happening in the world and what was causing it” Akira hadn’t said or done anything about climate change because she didn’t want to ruin her relationship with her dad. But that wasn’t her problem, she realized now. It was his. Akira didn’t need to argue with her dad about climate change, she just needed to do what she knew was right, if her father didn’t like that, that was on him because she wasn’t going to stay quiet anymore, climate change was real and it was here and Akira had to do something about it.”
This is illustrated again in the ending of a peer relationship over income disparity. There are several examples, with the most impactful quoted below:
“In the distance, electric light glowed from the windows of the tall condos that had survived the hurricane. “I see they got the power back on down in Brickell.” Patience said with disgust. “Glad the rich people were first on the list. Needed the power to run their juicers and exercise bikes I guess” Natalie thought about Shannon in her high-rise apartment with its own generator. Shannon, who was only worried about how Hurricane Rueban was going to ruin her Halloween. Whose father called staying in Miami through the hurricane a “camping adventure.” Natalie couldn’t imagine her and Shannon going back to being friends when this is all over”(emphasis ours)
This statement alone is contradictory to everything we see displayed on posters around the school. Why was a proposed required reading program using a book that is in direct contradiction?
5. Hijacking of a Great Program
We wholeheartedly support the stated purpose of the One School One Book program, which is to “use the power of reading aloud together to build connections across families, schools, and communities to cultivate students’ learning and success.” The program is to integrate reading aloud at home with your family with reading done at school. The program acknowledges reading aloud at home is one of the best things families can do to help their kids succeed. We applaud this concept of encouraging literacy by engaging the families with the school in this manner.
But if you have read this far, you hopefully see this is NOT at all what was happening with the proposed reading of ‘Two Degrees’. The Kutztown implementation was not a read-aloud done at home. With the graphic catastrophes, it’s not a cozy bedtime story! It is meant to make everyone like-minded, or drive a wedge between people who do not agree. Kutztown’s implementation of the One School, One Book program is shrouding political and social messaging in a program to promote a community of readers.
Other than choosing one book, Kutztown’s implementation bears little resemblance to the way the program is designed. It remains unclear why the school originally chose to implement the program in this way. Other Berks schools have successfully implemented it correctly- by engaging the families.
Kutztown’s One School, One Book program was canceled by the Superintendent because he felt the scrutiny the teachers would be under would be a distraction to the kids and outweigh the benefits. However, the TRUE program as it was intended wasn’t even being followed. The administration made much of this problem through their chosen implementation.
Trust vs. Credentials
We are increasingly hearing more and more about credentials--that letters or experience behind an educator's name should DEFAULT parents to surrender trust, like some established inseparable norm of cause and effect. While the level of experience is positive, having an expectation that parents freely surrender trust based on one’s level of experience and education alone is based on the idea of parents lacking the ability to have their own discernment. Trust is earned and increasingly these days institutions do not promote those that all parents trust.
We believe it is wrong to place students in a position where they are more likely than when they started to put politics, income status, and skin color before relationships.
We believe a positive school-wide reading initiative with clearly stated and supported goals to create readers should not wrap political and social issues in an entertaining novel in a way sought to inspire not just agreement, but action.
This is why we will continue to support school board directors who value parental rights and education that promotes critical thinking. Stay tuned for information about our KASD Children First PAC Candidates for the open seats for 2023!
American Enterprise Institute;
Watt’s Up With That