Pennsylvania Kids Do Real Life 'Footloose,' Only With Books On Race And US History, No Kevin Bacon
Just gonna spoil the ending for you, Wonkers: This is a story where the good guys win. And not just a little victory, a complete reversal of a boneheaded attempt at censoring books in schools. You can get a little confetti ready for later if you want, and maybe cue up Randy Newman's home run fanfare from The Natural while you're at it. We could use a feel-good story, so thanks to Philadelphia inquirer columnist Will Bunch, here we go!
You see, in York, Pennsylvania, last year, following the summer's protests over the murder of George Floyd, the Central York School District's diversity committee put together a list of books and other resources for teachers and students that could be used to supplement classroom lessons and just generally improve awareness of diversity. The list included elementary-level books about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai's autobiography, and a whole range of works by people of color.
Possible adjustments to the elementary curriculum included reading a book called I Am Human: A Book of Empathy, by Susan Verde, which features an illustration of a Black kid on the cover. One of the parents on the diversity committee told Newsweek that the book is about being kind, not about race, but a school board member saw the cover and asked if the school board would balance the book out by teaching kids to be empathetic toward police, too.
Yup, that kind of school board.
In a statement last November, board President Jane Johnson said "a significant portion" of parents had objected to the supplementary materials, so the board voted to "freeze" the use of everything on the list while they "reviewed" it. Johnson also told a local teevee station the materials were a problem because parents felt they were "promoting unequal treatment of individuals on immutable characteristics," which is code for why don't we have a White History Month HENGHHH? Mind you, they weren't banning books, just freezing their availability in schools, which is obviously not a ban, got it?
The York Daily Record has a helpful, depressingly long list of the frozebanned materials, which includes not only books but articles from academic journals, CNN's Sesame Street town hall on racism, and the 2016 documentary about James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro.
Maybe it's worth noting that all this actually preceded this year's nonsense Fox News freakouts over "critical race theory," so we guess the Central York School Board was really ahead of the race panic curve. At a recent school board meeting, one parent said the local community is "100 percent against an critical race theory indoctrination agenda," whatever she thought that was, and another said he was grateful to the school board for banfreezing all those terrible books, because "I don't want my daughter growing up feeling guilty because she's white," which we suppose is the inevitable consequence of seeing disturbing Marxist propaganda like Brad Meltzer's I Am Rosa Parks.
The seething hatred of white people simply jumps off the cover, doesn't it?
Happily, a lot of kids attending Central York High School weren't buying into the paranoia, and as the new school year got going, they decided to try that activism thing that the banfrozen books so frequently mentioned, holding daily demonstrations outside the school — five students at the first one, and then more, and eventually hundreds of kids, in a group they called the "Panther Anti-Racist Union," because the school's mascot happens to be the Panthers, but talk about a fun coincidence to scare Fox News viewers. Says Bunch,
The group showed up at school board meetings and grew increasingly vocal.
"Our thoughts are being invalidated," one of the student activists, Edha Gupta, told a local TV station. "There's only one portion of the community that this ban represents, and it's not ours."
The student protests not only roused the large number of Central York parents who actually want their children to learn about promoting diversity and fighting racism, but helped turn the book flap in central Pennsylvania into a national story. Brad Meltzer — the author of two of the restricted kids books, about Rosa Parks and MLK — flew up from Miami to air his complaints with the school board, while free libraries in and around York vowed to stock the books on the school's restricted list to make them widely available.
"They are fearful for the teachers they love and wonder if by deliberately or inadvertently defying the ban those teachers are in danger of losing their jobs," Patricia Jackson, a language arts teacher at Central York, told me. "One student pointed to a poster of Maya Angelou on my classroom wall and asked, 'Ms. Jackson, are you allowed to have that? Aren't you afraid you'll get in trouble or lose your job?'"
There you have the real reason for bans on "critical race theory" — making teachers and kids afraid of getting out of line.
But what the hell, the kids and their parents won. Play that fanfare!
At a school board meeting Monday evening, the board voted unanimously to unfreeze all the materials on the list and make them available again. Yes, even though one woman at the board meeting said she was OK with books about MLK and Jackie Robinson, but thought that books promoting "socialism and communism" should remain banned, and another complained that even the innocent-seeming history stuff was a "smokescreen" for indoctrinating innocent schoolchildren with all that critical race theory. She warned, "Make sure what you're blindly ushering in," and urged those at the meeting to beware of "radicals within our ranks." Presumably, this person then went home to search out hidden Marxist messages in Thomas the Tank Engine. Why are the cabooses red? And no, we're still not kidding.
The board members issued another statement insisting nothing had ever been banned, simply frozen, and everyone mocked what a ridiculous lie that was and then got back to celebrating what can happen when people in a democracy confront narrow-minded bigots. Have another fanfare, this one for the common American. Here's Bunch again:
Ben Hodge, a Central York High theater teacher who advised the student protesters, told me late Monday night that the young activists "are heroes and should be celebrated as bastions of American freedom and democracy. I want to be clear, these kids did this."
Arguably, the high schoolers of York County have taught us a lesson, by reminding us that the vast majority of Americans — especially schoolchildren but also most parents — support [...] classrooms where anti-racism is taught as part of the American story. In fighting against a narrow-minded minority, these kids learned and then illuminated something equally important: How to beat back bullies.
Heck, it's the kind of story that would make for a pretty good children's book, or even a movie with some great songs. I hope some of the kids who led the campaign have a literary bent.
[Philadelphia Inquirer / Newsweek / York Daily Record / CNN / York Daily Record]
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