On February 9, the Reading Eagle reported that the the district’s One Book, One School program would be halted because the book, Two Degrees, a novel by Alan Gratz, centers on young people’s efforts to deal with climate change.
It was encouraging to read that Superintendent Temchatin and several others expressed strong support for the program and for the teachers who organized it, and there are several reasons why I think stopping the program is destructive and misguided:
- Middle-school students are quite capable of learning about, discussing, and considering important, complex, and controversial issues — especially with support and guidance by professional educators. Canceling the program not only denies students a valuable and highly-relevant learning experience, it indicates a lack of trust in the students and their developing critical thinking skills.
- Stopping a program that had been carefully developed by teachers shows disrespect for their understanding of the needs, interests, and abilities of their students. Let’s hope that this decision doesn’t undermine teacher morale or weaken students’ respect for school.
- Eliminating this book because some people disagree with it is inappropriate censorship of ideas. Climate science is not ‘political’ or ‘propaganda’; it is established, validated science — but the opposition is mostly political or ideological. It is unconstitutional for a government agency to ban a topic on ideological grounds.
What kind of civics lesson is a school teaching when it goes against the Constitution?
- The climate crisis is of existential importance for young people today.* Helping students learn to understand, analyze, and discuss important aspects of reality is not ‘fear-driven’ but empowering. (In our internship program, we meet many college and university students who learned about the serious climate crisis when they go to college — and they want to know why they didn’t learn about it in school!)
What kind of lesson is it when the District blocks exploration of climate science and the urgent need for action?
What message does it send when the District does not support and develop the ability of its students to help improve the world?
* To better understand young people’s thoughts on the climate crisis, read students’ essays and statements in the Fall 2021 and Fall 2020 issues of our Sustainable Lehigh Valley booklet. [Both are available at no charge on the Alliance website.]
Mr. Koch asked, “Do we want our children to look at us in the way we live in this community and say it’s wrong?” That’s the wrong question, but there are two important questions that should be asked:
- Do we want to block students from considering whether there is anything about the way people live that could have serious consequences?
- Should schools should stop students from learning about certain topics because some people’s ideology or political positions don’t agree?
To meet the needs of students and the community, KASD should reverse this decision and reinstate the program as soon as possible!
I urge all board members, administrator, and teachers — and middle-school and high-school students — to read Two Degrees and to take a look at the Teaching Climate website for many ideas on how teachers can integrate climate into the existing curriculum using interdisciplinary and experiential approaches that engage students.
Peter Crownfield, internship coordinator
Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley
For those who haven’t already seen it, I strongly suggest that you read the Reading Eagle story: ‘Kutztown One Book, One School literacy program halted after outcry over book’s focus on climate.’ (9 February 2023)