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White privilege programs take center stage in pair of school districts — and frustrated board members, parents are pushing back hard


'The book teaches kids not only to defy parents but to hate themselves'

Photo by Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Programs fighting white privilege are taking center stage in a pair of Pennsylvania school districts, and board members and parents are pushing back hard against them.

'The book teaches kids not only to defy parents but to hate themselves'

Gladwyne School in the Lower Merion School District — reportedly one of the richest in the nation — will require fourth and fifth graders to read "Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness," which claims that white people who relate to police officers or don't watch the news are guilty of racism, and kindergartners and first graders will be assigned "A Kid's Book About Racism," the Washington Free Beacon reported.

In response, Elana Yaron Fishbein — a mother of two boys and a doctor of social work — wrote to the district's superintendent, board members, and the school's principal demanding the school remove its "cultural proficiency" curriculum, the paper said.

"The book teaches kids not only to defy parents but to hate themselves," Fishbein told the Free Beacon. "To hate their parents also because they are white. By default, [the kids] are white, and they're privileged, and they're bad. [The school] is teaching this to little kids."

More from the paper:

Cultural proficiency lessons at Gladwyne were announced in an email to parents on June 9. The email claims that despite offering four other lessons on equity and race, the school's "Cultural Proficiency Committee" believes those lessons are insufficient and created a fifth lesson focused explicitly on anti-racism.

"Generally, each class also engages in a cultural proficiency lesson; however, we realize that this is not enough," Gladwyne Principal Veronica Ellers wrote in an email the Free Beacon said it obtained. "We plan to continue designing lessons that promote anti-racist actions in the upcoming 20-21 school year and beyond."

"A Kid's Book About Racism" includes a list of actions deemed harmful and racist, the paper said, adding that the book says that asking questions can be racist and asks 5- to 7-year-olds to call out racism when they identify it.

"[Racism] happens all the time," the book reads, according to the Free Beacon. "Sometimes it shows up in small ways. Like a look, a comment, a question, a thought, a joke, a word, or a belief…. If you see someone being treated badly, made fun of, excluded from playing, or looked down on because of their skin color call it racism."

District spokeswoman Amy Buckman defended the move, according to the paper: "The Lower Merion School District fully supports the ongoing implementation of an anti-racist curriculum in its schools and encourages the use of developmentally appropriate books that raise awareness of the very real issues of racism and privilege."

Other parents afraid to speak out

Fishbein told the Free Beacon that parents who share her concerns privately message her as they're scared to speak up due to fear of being branded racist.

"If you say anything that's racist according to the school or parent's definition of racism, you're out," she added to the paper. "You're called a racist. No wonder the parents don't talk."

Lower Merion refused to respond to her emails, the Free Beacon noted, adding that Fishbein's children will attend a private school in the fall.

School district #2

The Central York School District is about 90 miles west of Lower Merion, and it's feeling the same race-related program tensions.

In fact, two school board members on Monday blasted a proposed curriculum meant to tackle racial issues because they said it doesn't teach respect for police and may promote socialism, the York Dispatch reported.

Vicki Guth and Veronica Gemma said the pilot program and discussions about it within the district's diversity committee focus too much on racism and white privilege, the paper noted.

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

Guth also said she's bothered that such topics influence students to "want to be socialists" and that students are growing up in a generation that doesn't respect religious faith or the U.S. in general, the paper said.

Gemma wondered if students were being taught about the value of police officers and pointed out that one teacher commented in a diversity committee meeting that "I need to make sure my students aren't racist," the Dispatch reported.

As for that teacher's comment, Gemma said, "I don't want anyone to assume that little first graders are racist, little second graders are racist," the paper added.

What did the district have to say?

Central York on Tuesday defended its push for diversity while also distancing the district from the two board members' comments, the Dispatch reported.

"Comments made by individual school board members during a public meeting regarding these issues are reflective of individual board members' personal views/ideologies/beliefs and not reflective of the administration of Central York School District, the school board as a whole, or the Central York School District," the statement read, according to the paper.

The purpose of the proposed curriculum is to allow teachers and students to talk about national issues that have made headlines over recent months, Assistant Superintendent Robert Grove told the Dispatch Monday.

"It's not the same world out there, whether it's a pandemic or other events out there that are commanding our collective attention," Grove added to the paper. "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.

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