Wake Ed

Wake County and groups disagree about appropriateness of two children’s books

The Wake County school system and conservative groups are taking equally firm and opposite opinions as to whether it’s appropriate for 9-year-old children to read “ One Crazy Summer” and “ Esperanza Rising.”

Wake says both award-winning books offer sound messages for fourth-grade students about finding support during difficult times. But critics say the books promote a one-sided political agenda that praises the Black Panthers and illegal immigration and criticizes the police.

Let’s start the chronology on how this has become a national issue over the past two weeks.

On Jan. 30, an anonymous blogger named NC Citizen posted the first of four posts on Stop Common Core NC, a project of the Civitas Institute, about the books being used in Wake. NC Citizen declined a request to be interviewed for the story.

“There is so much to be concerned about with this story not just the Black Panthers, they read about broken families, racism, etc. These are heavy topics for 4th graders, let’s start the indoctrination early,” NC Citizen posted Jan. 31 on “One Crazy Summer.”

“Again, this is Wake County, one of the largest school districts in North Carolina and the country,” NC Citizen posted on Jan. 31 about “Esperanza Rising.” “This story shapes children’s views on class, immigration, unions, police, etc. Do you think this is appropriate for 4th graders?”

NC Citizen followed up Monday with a post listing several quotes from “One Crazy Summer.”

“Who chose One Crazy Summer and why was it deemed appropriate for these young students?” NC Citizen wrote Monday. “I believe in reading historical fiction but it must be age appropriate and revisionist historical fiction is not acceptable.”

The original January posts were picked up by various conservative websites, including breitbart.com.

The story got more national attention Sunday when Fox News aired a segment on Fox and Friends Weekend.

"It remains consistent with the theme that these fourth graders are picking up," Caleb Bonham, editor of Campus Reform, said on “Fox And Friends Weekend” of the use of the books. "And that is that the police are good for one of two things. They're either going to shoot you as is in the case with ‘One Crazy Summer’ or they're going deport you, whether you're legal or not.

Educators are really capitalizing on opportunities to use students to advance political narratives.”

Wake school officials say it’s wrong to say that all fourth-grade students are reading both books. But they say it is developmentally appropriate for the small number of fourth-grade students at Highcroft Drive Elementary School in Cary who are reading them in their book clubs.

In an interview arranged Tuesday by the Wake County school system, Rusty Taylor, a coordinating teacher in Wake’s instructional technology and library media services office, downplayed the charges the books are being used to promote a particular political narrative.

“There’s been political narrative in American history for years and years,” Taylor said. “It was there during the 1930s for the Depression. It was there in the 1960s and it’s here with us today.

I think ultimately this takes some very difficult topics and allows kids to see a part of history that they normally would not see. I think frequently one of the messages that we want kids to have is that they have to learn how to make decisions for themselves.

And this allows them to begin to cull through lots of those issues – hopefully with parent support as well – because we want those kids to go back and talk with their parents, and talk with their teacher, and then in that literature circle also talk with one another. It’s the discussion that’s the rich part of it.”

Taylor also said “I don’t see these books being about the politics.”

“I believe these books are about kids who are making sense of their family lives and their own life,” Taylor continued. “They (the main characters in the books) are at a point where they are moving from childhood to adolescence. They’re grappling with trying to figure out what the world is all about.”