How do we get kids to care about racism? Ask Central York's school board

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Examples of some of the books included in Central York School District's ban on diversity teaching materials.

Ask any parent: How do you get kids to do anything?

Tell them they are forbidden to do it.

This lesson was apparently lost on the buffoons elected to the Central York school board when they voted unanimously last fall to outright ban dozens of articles, books, films and even a coloring book by creators of color.

It's not entirely clear what motivated the school board members.

Our job is not to speculate.

But they succeeded in motivating students to read, to learn and to take action.

Since The York Dispatch broke the story two weeks ago, dozens of students have staged walk-in protests. They also showed up to a virtual school board meeting this week to voice their opposition.

"It is evident to me that diversity and the voices of color in this district do not matter," Edha Gupta, one of the student protest organizers, said at the meeting. "I don't feel welcome here — not anymore."

More:'I don't feel welcome here': Central York dithers on diversity book ban

More:Demonstrators rally against book ban at Central Admin

Central High School senior Edha Gupta holds a sign while posing for a photo outside the Central York School District Administration offices before a school board meeting there Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. The rally was in opposition to a banned resource list instituted by the district, which demonstrators say targets minority authors. Gupta organized student protests at the school the week prior to the meeting. Bill Kalina photo

That's a terrible thing, regardless of the school board's intent.

Kids have enough to deal with already. Racism, even of the passive, thoughtless, inadvertent variety, should not be one more thing.

But if there's any good to come out of the school board's stupid, patently racist choices, it's this: Students now have an excellent list of reading and viewing material that can help expand their minds, challenge their assumptions and spur them to take an active role in the world.

James Baldwin was a deeply empathic writer of both fiction and nonfiction who tackled issues of class, race and even sexuality. The Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro is a highlight reel of sorts, assembling clips from Baldwin's various TV interviews and public speeches in one place.

Layla Saad's Me and White Supremacy serves as a plainspoken examination of racism, encouraging readers to think critically about how they move through the world and the assumptions that are baked into their day-to-day lives.

Ibram X. Kendi, meanwhile, gives people a practical toolkit for, quite literally, "How to Be an Antiracist."

Was the school board's list exhaustive?

Not at all.

But we encourage young people to check out this list the Central York school board so thoughtfully assembled for you and use it as a jumping-off place for your own education. Once you're done, delve deeper into the work of James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Spike Lee, Michelle Alexander, W.E.B. DuBois and the list goes on ...

One deeply troubling aspect of this story is the school board's own lack of intellectual curiosity and its heavy-handed approach to leadership.

At this week's meeting, Vice President Veronica Gemma said the school board was forced to ban all of these materials because it could not personally vet them.

"If we had questionable books on it, we had to vote it down altogether," she said.

More:'A slap in the face': Central York students protest ban on diversity resources

Fellow board member Mike Wagner nailed the hypocrisy immediately, saying: "There were members on the board who did not trust the teachers to do their jobs — and, second, we did not trust the administration to do their jobs when it came to this list."

Somehow, this school board has taken it upon itself to micromanage decisions best made by teachers.

The result? A tone-deaf ban that tried to silence black and brown voices.

And they wonder why kids are so disrespectful these days.

Kids: Keep going. It's time for some good trouble.

*PSST* Here's that list: