Q&A with Central York Student Organizer Edha Gupta!, How to Confront Right-Wing Attacks on Education, Scotland First Country in World to Require LGBT Education in Curricula, And More!
“Conversations didn’t work. Action clearly does, and it has spurred a movement.” - Edha Gupta, Central York High School Senior
This week I published another column: Bucks County youth must rise up to defend education. I spoke with a very inspiring young woman, Edha Gupta, a student organizer from Central York High School who along with her classmates helped overturn a racist book and resource ban which sought to erase voices of color. I was so impressed by what this high school senior had to say that I wanted to share my interview notes with you. One thing she did say after I published my article is: “I really hope that the kids at Pennridge see this!” To see why, you can read the article either at the Bucks County Courier Times or The Intelligencer. If you hit a paywall with them, try GoErie, which republished my article.
Now, here is my interview with Edha Gupta:
Edha Gupta at a protest of Central York's materials ban. The school's actions became public in a story published in the York Dispatch. (Credit: Bill Kalina/York Dispatch)
Why did you and other students decide that you needed to organize and protest against the book ban?
Growing up since preschool in this district, I always felt isolated because no one looked like me, and no one seemed to appreciate the differences of culture, religion, and ethnicity, all contributing to my identity. Through having conversations with the school board before the ban was enacted, I knew that a consolidated and loving understanding of the differences of race, religion, ethnicity, and orientation between students was not going to appear in school systems until and unless there was advocacy and pushback for this to happen. I knew that the way to mitigate isolating students of color was education, and when I had recommended this education to the board prior behind closed doors, my point had clearly not come across as it should have, even having been a student in this district for twelve years.
“Conversations didn’t work. Action clearly does, and it has spurred a movement.”
For this reason, I, along with the Executive Officers of PARU decided that enough is enough, and that we cannot let this board erase and whitewash history anymore. Knowledge is no one’s property, we knew the board could not have this degree of control over their teachers, and classrooms. As many of my peers including me are seniors, soon calling this school our alma mater, we decided that we cannot leave behind a Central where children will be impeded in their development of self love and confidence in themselves. This ban was not allowing children to look in the library and to see a main character that looked like them, or sense any type of appreciation for themselves in their community. We couldn’t stand by while students were learning ignorance, and while our education was being infringed upon. Conversations didn’t work. Action clearly does, and it has spurred a movement.
Why do you think your school board, like others across the state and country, are banning voices of color from the curriculum?
In the board’s words, they banned diversity resource list, never intended to be incorporated into the curriculum, because it was promoting a “one sided” education to children and increasing tensions between students, however I don’t believe this is the reason the board did this. If incorporating resources from the unfiltered and genuine history of America fosters hate in students, that should be remedied, and those students should not be sheltered. By placing this ban, the board was promoting this hatred between students. Ineducation and ignorance leads to real tensions between students, as no student will truly be cognizant and sensitive to the differences that make us unique. The consequence of this ineducation is what I suffered through in my childhood. Productive conversations are the remedy to polarization, and those are not happening.
In my opinion, it is human nature to stay stagnant in one’s own comfortability, and that is what the board did. Because they were surrounded by like looking and like minded people in making this decision, they never considered what it means to be a person of color in America, and the detrimental impacts of banning these resources to our education. They looked at their comfortability, and their political agenda.
“If incorporating resources from the unfiltered and genuine history of America fosters hate in students, that should be remedied, and those students should not be sheltered.”
Not only the Central York School board, but school district leaderships across the country are so afraid to learn different perspectives, and so afraid to be uncomfortable. They are afraid that talking about racism will lead to the detriment of their image. This is ignorance, and by banning these resources, it will never be remedied.
How would you answer critics who say you are too young, and that you should leave these types of decisions that affect your education to adults?
This ban directly harms students of color: high school students, middle school students, and young elementary students who don’t have a voice to speak up yet. If we don’t stand up to decisions that directly affect us, who is going to? We deserve to be heard, and contribute to decisions that affect us. Young students have an unfair disadvantage in this society, where there seems to be a consolidated feeling that they are incapable of making sound decisions for themselves. Children are the future. This is a fact. Knowing this, why weren’t we even informed of this decision directly by the school board? Why did I have to find out by a secondary source? Adults are incapable of understanding what is it like to be a student of color at central currently, they have no experience in this to speak on, so I think it is preposterous that the very students’ education this ban is preventing, those same students are discouraged to stand up for what they believe in. Change is growth. Change is good. That is what students are offering, and that is why our notions are rejected. There is a negative stigma to growth in our society, and that is what students are here to change.
How has this experience and victory impacted you? What is your message to other students across the state facing similar assaults on their education?
One of my main takeaways from this whole amazingly overwhelming experience is that when communities can band together and stand in union to protest something together anything is possible. I have so much faith in my Central community, and am so thankful and grateful to everyone who showed up over the past few weeks to advocate for the reversal of this decision. These past few weeks, including the reversal of the ban, have shown me that we have the power to amplify voices enough to not request that they be heard, but to rather demand that they are heard. That is exactly what happened. We have the power as students, even if we are told to suppress our voices.
That is why my message to any student facing a similar issue at their schools is that PLEASE, if you see something, say something. It is so important to stand and push back onto this type of leadership. We have to start standing up to the injustices against us, it is time. I promise you, you will be so surprised as to how many people show up by your side to support you. You are NEVER alone, and know that the Panther Anti Racist Union stands by you. Please never give up, because in the end, the trials and tribulations are worth it. Never let anyone tell you that you do not deserve to be heard. Start making the change today.
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Confronting the Right-Wing Attacks on Racial Justice Teaching
By Rethinking Schools Editors
“We recognize how demoralizing, scary, and destructive these attacks can be, particularly for educators already vulnerable in any number of ways: teachers of color, LGBTQ educators, early-career educators, and those working in states without strong unions. Overt resistance may not always be possible. That is why educators cannot wage this campaign of resistance on our own. We need parents, students, community groups, civil rights organizations, labor unions, and elected officials to join us in our defense of teaching the truth by testifying at school board meetings and state department of education hearings, writing letters to the editor and op-eds, and advocating to unseat the elected officials across the country who are the architects of these attacks...” https://rethinkingschools.org/articles/racial-justice-our-classrooms-and-the-right-wing-attacks/
Scotland Becomes First Country to Promote LGBT History & Inclusion in All Schools
By News and Guts
“Scotland became the first country in the world to require the inclusion of LGBT education in school curricula earlier this month. ‘Subjects across age groups will now include LGBT identities, issues and history,’ explains a press release. The government says that the new initiative is ‘focused on promoting equality, reducing bullying and improving the educational experiences of LGBT children and young people.’
‘I am proud to say that Scotland is leading the way as the first country in the world to embed LGBT inclusive education right across the curriculum. By doing so, we can help young people to reach their full potential and flourish in a diverse and inclusive society,’ said Scottish Children’s Minister Clare Haughey.” https://www.newsandguts.com/scotland-becomes-first-country-to-promote-lgbt-history-inclusion-in-all-schools/
Banned Books Week: We defend 30 challenged books including 'Beloved' and '1984'
By USA TODAY Staff
“For this year's Banned Books Week, USA TODAY staffers are defending some of the most challenged books in America as compiled by the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom ... USA TODAY staff looked at challenged and banned books and chose those that are meaningful to them. In the books' defense, we've written why they deserve a place in our schools, libraries and society…” https://www.app.com/story/entertainment/books/2021/09/27/banned-books-week-the-bluest-eye-harry-potter-1984-handmaids-tale-goosebumps-golden-compass/5758877001/
Thanks for reading! I look forward to your feedback and suggestions. And most importantly, keep organizing!