4th Grade Reading Assignments: Black Panthers, Police Brutality, Need for Amnesty

Common Core
AP Photo/AJ Mast

Fourth graders in Wake County, North Carolina have been assigned one book that involves the Black Panthers and racism, and another involving a father’s murder, police crackdowns on Mexican unions, and immigration to the United States.

According to Stop Common Core North Carolina, a parent reported 4th graders have been told to read the book One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia, in which three sisters are sent by their negligent mother to a camp run by the Black Panthers.

A description of the book at Amazon.com states it is “the story of three sisters who travel to Oakland, California in 1968 to meet the mother who abandoned them.”

The description continues:

Eleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She’s had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. When they arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with her, Cecile is nothing like they imagined. While the girls hope to go to Disneyland and meet Tinker Bell, their mother sends them to a day camp run by the Black Panthers. Unexpectedly, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern learn much about their family, their country, and themselves during one truly crazy summer.

The book is said to “support the Common Core standards,” and is slated for ages 8-12 years and grades 4-7.

Storysnoops.com adds:

Delphine is a positive female African-American role model for girls. She displays tremendous responsibility and loyalty to her family. Her mother, however, is mean. At one point she tells Delphine that she should have gotten rid of her when she had the chance, but there is no indication that her true meaning is understood. The Black Panthers are portrayed in a positive light, and the reader is educated about some of the charitable community programs they set up.

As observed by Progressives Today, one of Amazon’s positive reviews of the book denies the subject matter is too adult for children, since the Black Panthers are portrayed as trying to fight for equality as follows:

A few reviewers complain that today’s young people won’t understand the story as well as they could because they’ve never heard of the Black Panthers nor are familiar with some other historical content. But I feel the comments and context make it clear that such references deal with black groups fighting for equality and against being discriminated against by the white establishment and its cultural enforcers, the white police.

In the same school district, 4th graders are also assigned Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan:

Told in a lyrical, fairy tale-like style, Ryan’s (riding Freedom) robust novel set in 1930 captures a Mexican girl’s fall from riches, her immigration to California and her growing awareness of class and ethnic tensions. Thirteen-year-old Esperanza Ortega and her family are part of Mexico’s wealthy, land-owning class in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Her father is a generous and well-loved man who gives his servants land and housing. Early in the novel, bandits kill Esperanza’s father, and her corrupt uncles threaten to usurp their home. Their servants help her and her mother flee to the United States, but they must leave Esperanza’s beloved Abuelita (grandmother) behind until they can send for her…

Ryan fluidly juxtaposes world events (Mexico’s post-revolution tensions, the arrival of Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl victims and the struggles between the U.S. government and Mexican workers trying to organize) with one family’s will to survive – while introducing readers to Spanish words and Mexican customs. Readers will be swept up by vivid descriptions of California dust storms or by the police crackdown on a labor strike (“The picket signs lay on the ground, discarded, and like a mass of marbles that had already been hit, the strikers scattered?”).

“Again, this is Wake County, one of the largest school districts in North Carolina and the country,” writes Stop Common Core North Carolina. “This story shapes children’s views on class, immigration, unions, police, etc. Do you think this is appropriate for 4th graders? Will students read Johnny Tremain? or similar works?”


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