The Central York School District School Board in York County started a storm by banning resources teachers could use in their classrooms. The banned teaching material mainly concerned people of color. They included articles on anti-racism work in schools, race and classroom trauma, racism as a public health crisis, and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators statement on racism. Also, âComing Together: Standing Up to Racism,â a CNN / Sesame Street town hall for kids and families; “Our Favorite African Symbols of Adrinkra: A Coloring Book”, by Abena Walker; the Oscar nominated documentary “I Am Not Your Negro”, based on the writings of James Baldwin; a PBS documentary series on African American history; and a spreadsheet of books, many of them written or illustrated by people of color. As the York Dispatch reported, the school board overturned the ban on Monday evening.
Three cheers to all who opposed the ban on teaching materials imposed by the Central York School Board.
– First and foremost to students who have overcome the usual teenage aversion to the wee hours of the morning to rally for morning protests outside of Central York High School.
– Concerned citizens and parents who supported the students’ campaign for educational material reflecting the diversity of their neighborhood.
– Don Dehoff, a Central York graduate in 1964, who according to The York Dispatch returned his diploma in the mail, so angry he was at an “all-white school board banning articles of colored people.”
– Aaron’s Books in Lititz, who pledged before the ban was lifted to provide a free copy of any of the books on the banned list to anyone living, working, or teaching in the Central York district.
– And Robert F. Lambert, president of York County Libraries, who wrote an editorial, published in the two York newspapers, denounce the âunfortunate, misguided and unfortunateâ decision of the Central York School Board.
âLearning about human rights and learning about other peoples, cultures and perspectives is not political indoctrination,â Lambert wrote. âThey are the cornerstone of our pluralism and our democratic republic. They are the oxygen for other issues and lifelong learning. They are the launching pad for a dynamic 21st century of diverse collaborations and problem solving.
He is absolutely right.
If we are to understand each other in our increasingly diverse country, we need to know each other. This knowledge often comes from books and other documents that challenge our ways of thinking and broaden our view of the world. Employers expect students to graduate with this kind of knowledge now; they want students to be able to work with people who come from diverse backgrounds.
Teaching students the unvarnished history of our country is not, as Lambert so aptly put it, political indoctrination. It is simply teaching.
And we fear that fabricated outrage against Critical Race Theory – an academic theory that has been around for decades – has made some people fear any teaching about racism, slavery, Jim Crow, and civil rights.
Some aspects of American history can be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean students need to be protected from them. And age-appropriate picture books on, say, Rosa Parks, can be a perfect introduction to difficult topics.
While we are encouraged that the Central York board of directors admitted their mistake and overturned it, it seems likely that this only happened because public criticism was intense and came from sources as disparate as Don Lemon. from CNN and Brian Kilmeade from Fox. (“They both said the book ban was bad. You bring the country together,” Nathan Grove, a 2000 Central York graduate, told the school board dryly, according to the York Daily Record.)
By initially banning documents that acknowledge the existence of racism, the Central York School Board telegraphed to students that certain realities must and would be ignored.
“It’s obvious to me that the diversity and voices of color in this neighborhood don’t matter,” Edha Gupta, a senior who organized a series of morning protests, told the school board, according to The York. Dispatch. “I don’t feel welcome here – not anymore.”
Why would she feel welcome in a school district that banned âThe Story of Ruby Bridgesâ by Robert Coles and âMalala: My Story of Defending Girls’ Rightsâ by Malala Yousafzai? They are literally books about girls’ struggle for equity in education.
Also on the banned list: “I Am Rosa Parks” by Brad Meltzer and “I Am Enough” by Grace Byers, a picture book described by its publisher as a “lyrical ode to loving who you are, to respecting others. and be kind to each other. Cancel a book on Rosa Parks? A book on self-confidence and kindness? It is inexplicable.
As reported by the York Dispatch, the resource list was created by the Central York School District Diversity Education Committee. District spokesperson Julie Randall Romig said in a written statement that “committee members share resources among themselves that could be useful in educating and supporting our diverse student body at different times.”
This is exactly what teachers should be doing.
Advocacy in the canton of Manheim
Last year, following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, more than 500 former and future graduates of Manheim Township, from 1967 to 2024, signed a letter to this predominantly white school district to plead in favor a less racial curriculum. The signatories also urged school district officials to start compulsory anti-racism training for teachers, hold assemblies to combat racism and hire more teachers of color.
âWe didn’t have the tools to actively seek out resources to have difficult conversations about becoming anti-racist,â wrote Grace Torrance, a 2017 graduate, who wrote the letter.
Sarah Svetec, who graduated from Manheim Canton High School in 2016, presented her plea directly to the school board. In a virtual meeting, Svetec implored the board to bring more anti-racism initiatives into and out of classrooms. âRacial prejudice exists,â Svetec said. “They can be approached in school, a place where they can be unlearned.”
Indeed, they can. But only if we want them not to be educated and have the courage to work in this direction.
Manheim Central Superintendent Peter J. Aiken has been hired to lead the Central York School District; he will start his new job later this fall. He must be as relieved as anyone that the controversial resource ban has been overturned. But he will have to deal with the fallout from the board’s earlier error in instituting the ban in the first place. We wish him good luck.
And we hope other school boards, including those in Lancaster County, will learn from the Central York debacle. Among those lessons is this: Attempting to whitewash education in today’s diverse world is foolish and counterproductive. It signals fear. This is a sign of a lack of trust in teachers. And this suggests that there is only one way to see the world and that is through the prism of whiteness, while the aim of education should be to expand the knowledge of students, not to restrict them.