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EDITORIAL: Board members could learn from racism curriculum

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Central York High School, Tuesday, April 14, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Once more for those in the back: Systemic racism is one of the biggest problems facing the United States.

Some of those who are fortunate enough to have been born with what is considered the correct skin tone have known this for a long time. Some are just beginning to see this problem. Some refuse to look.

But it is knowledge that has been burned into the consciousness of every American who is Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous or anything other than white. The culture of this country has been stacked against them ever since Europeans first arrived, and while there have been a few positive steps taken, there is no doubt that in economics, education, housing, health, representation in government and many other areas, there is one level for whites and another, lower level for people of color.

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Central York School District has been trying to acknowledge this for more than a decade through the work of its diversity committee. The district has stepped up the committee's work this year as it prepares teachers to return to schools after a summer of Black Lives Matter protests set off by the deaths of several Black Americans at the hands of police and white people claiming authority. 

On Monday, the administration presented the revised curriculum meant to address racial issues to the school board. And two of the members of the board took issue with it, saying it focused too much on racism and white privilege. 

"The references that were made in this committee about teaching tolerance talked about white privilege and white saviorism," board member Vicki Guth said. "So you can’t win. If you’re normal, you’re a white privilege. If you’re trying to change things, you’re doing it out of the savior mentality.”

Guth added that students don't need to deal with those issues, and she was concerned that such topics are why students "want to be socialists" and don't respect religious faith or the U.S. in general.

Veronica Gemma, also a board member, questioned whether students were being educated about the value of police officers and talking about the discussion of the curriculum during the diversity committee meeting, saying "reverse racism is still racism."

"One comment that really concerned me, and it was, 'I need to make sure my students aren't racist,'" Gemma said. "And I don't want anyone to assume that little first graders are racist, little second graders are racist."

No, elementary school children won't have racist ideas on their own, but they will have been exposed to them simply by living in this country, seeing how people are treated in public and in private, and absorbing the culture the way children do. That's one of the points of having curriculum that addresses racism, seeing the racial aggressions that are inherent in our society. 

Central is thinking ahead and realizing that teachers and children alike will return to school with questions and issues that have been brought up over this summer, and the administration has done the right thing by addressing racial issues in curriculum for all grades.

The district has seen a large shift in demographics over the past 30 years. Less than 5% of Central's students were minorities in 1991, and by 2016 minority students made up more than 29% of the enrollment, according to the district. Everything that has happened since the students were last in class will come into play as they return at the end of the month.

"It's not the same world out there, whether it's a pandemic or other events out there that are commanding our collective attention," Assistant Superintendent Robert Grove said. "When our learners come back and they want to engage in the conversations, we want to make sure teachers are equipped with the right curriculum and standards but also the right verbiage and mindset."

Maybe Guth and Gemma could use the time they're spending worrying about what is "normal" and whether children are being taught the proper respect for police officers and instead read through that curriculum. They might learn something.