Anne Branigin, Washington Post, February 24, 2022
Edha Gupta can count on her fingers the number of times she’s learned about Asian Americans in history class — lessons so meager she refers to them as “slivers.”
“It was mostly to do with the California gold rush,” recalls Gupta, a senior at Central York High School in Pennsylvania. She didn’t learn about how India’s history intersected with the United States’ until AP World History, and even then, that was about the spice trade, she says.
When it came to Indian Americans like her, Gupta says, there was “really nothing.”
That lack of representation had a profound impact on Gupta, who said she started rejecting parts of her culture and her identity: “It’s really heartbreaking.”
Since the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, Gupta and other student leaders have been pushing the Central York School District to adopt more-inclusive curriculums, particularly in subjects such as social studies and history.
In November 2020, the school district went the other direction — banning a list of anti-racist books and educational resources by and about people of color. Gupta, along with other members of the student-run Panther Anti-Racist Union, organized protests — drawing nationwide attention to their school, as similar conflicts mushroomed across the country. While some educators, students and their parents have called for more diversity in their studies, some school boards and local government officials, citing complaints from other parents, have responded with book bans and policies restricting how race, gender and sexuality are taught.
In September, after months of community protests, Central York’s school board voted unanimously to reinstate the resource list.
The Post asked PARU student leaders, including Gupta, sisters Christina and Renee Ellis, and Olivia Pituch, about the kind of learning they want to experience in their classrooms. Here’s what they had to say.
Christina Ellis, 17
When the book ban happened, it kind of kick-started my fight-or-flight response in a way. I chose to kind of fight, if that makes sense. And so that is how I got involved.
If I was talking about K-12 social studies curriculum, I’d say, yes, we hit the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence, but we are also going to hit African American history and Asian American history and LGBTQ+ American history.
The docuseries on Netflix called “Amend” goes through a lot of minority groups. I think [an approach like] that would be a great way to showcase a lot of what American history is. I watched the docuseries and saw things that I didn’t even know about as an African American.
We need to spend more time on who really built this country and how this country did a lot of minority groups so wrong in the past and are still doing them so wrong.
People will say that [more-inclusive curriculums] will make White people feel uncomfortable. Well, it’s also uncomfortable for African American students to hear in classes that their ancestors were being lynched and have all the White kids turn around, look at you and stare at you while the teacher is talking to you about that. That’s uncomfortable.
Olivia Pituch, 17
As a White person, I realize that I have privilege and I realize that I haven’t gone through any racism or microaggressions. I want to hear these experiences, and I want to have these conversations because they’re important.
I’m really tired of learning, you know, only the basics — only learning about White men in history, if we’re being completely honest. There is so much more to America’s history.