Gay people and people of color aren’t a threat. Education isn’t indoctrination | Opinion

The students of Central York High School speak out on book bans and the culture war rocking the district

April 25, 2023 6:30 am

Tristan Doud, a junior at Central York High School (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

What is the cost of a book ban? Are student’s voices being considered in the fight for curriculum control? What will it take to get banned books put back on the shelves?

Levers is a video series created by Rolling Lemon, published in partnership with the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. It consists of short, first-person stories that explore opinions at the intersection of people, power, and public policy. 

The second installment brings you to the Central York School District in York County, where local high school students are advocating for banned books to be put back in the library. Tristan Doud,  Favor Gabrielle, and Zackary Smith testify before their school board explaining why it is not fair to ban books without acknowledging the rights of readers.

In 2021, Central York was in the national spotlight when students such as Tristan, Favor, and Zackary spoke out against a ban and successfully overturned it. It seems this time around, because they are now one of many school districts swept up in a wave of censorship, people aren’t paying as much attention.

An entire livestream of the school board meeting this video is edited from can be found here.

Favor Gabriel, junior, Central York High School

Hello, School Board.

My name is Favor Gabriel. I am a junior at Central York High School. Yes, I appear again. And no, I’m not satisfied. It is very inconsiderate and wrong for you to think you can take away books from students when in fact you are not a student at all.

You love to say you live and care for the students, but yet you don’t listen to us. You can’t even believe that we can have our own thoughts or share our own opinions without it being corrupted by a teacher.

We are human.

We have our own brain, mouth, legs, ears, arms and all of that.

But yet you still view us as brainless puppets who do and listen to anybody who peaks our interests. I can tell you today – that is completely incorrect.

Literacy should not be judged on context, but judged on the lessons, feelings, and the empowerment and satisfaction a person feels after reading it.

I hate how a person not even close to my age or know anything about me or most of the students at the high school was able to dictate what we read.

Also, let us not forget to point out that the person who did challenge the books did not recommend a substitution for them. So did you just want to ban the book for your own enjoyment, or were you actually thinking of the students?

I feel embarrassed that some people feel like I should not have the say I have, whether it’s because I’m Black, a teen, a student, a female, it doesn’t matter.

It is 2023. How is it that the school board is allowing people who are actually not thinking of every single student making a decision for every single student?

Tristan Doud, junior, Central York High School:

Hello. My name is Tristan Doud. I am a student. I am a real human being. Surprising, I know. It’s hard to believe that a student that your school system taught created a functional human being who has his own voice and thoughts.

I’d like to be credited for anything you disagree with here today.

I’m a student here at Central York, and though the image of our schooling system has been forever ruined for me and many others based off of your actions alone, we offer a solution: 

Put the books back.

Don’t silence the stories of these books and your students because you are scared of some parents who claim they deserve control.

Personally, I do not wish to be dictated by them. I didn’t think you would either. But that can’t be true because they are walking all over you.

I have seen how this event has been treated as though there isn’t much weight being placed on it. The lapse of judgment may slip under the radar, right?

I’m here to tell you it did not. The clock is ticking down for reckoning. But you have all the power here. No one is stopping you from doing the right thing. It’s just evident that you can’t handle the pressure that comes with this job.

So what’ll it be?

Will you continue to deflect the blame, or will you put the books back in the library?

In my AP latin class, in your curriculum, I read a quote from Malala who says, “The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them.”

Zackary Smith, senior, Central York High School:

Good evening. I’m Zachary Smith, and I’m a district student. Before I start, I would like to preface that this was written and edited by me and only me.

I want to ask a question. What is a mixed biological sex? If no one can answer that, how is it destroying our schools? I’ll give you a hint. They aren’t. No one knows what that is.

As a gay student here, I have faced discrimination. I have been called slurs. I have lost friends. And I have almost been physically attacked because of something that I cannot control. Yet, despite all of this, I’m the one who gets called immoral.

What about me is immoral?

Cause I love differently than someone else.

I find that funny, but mostly just plain stupid.

I want to address the book banning that’s occurred here. What exactly is bad about these books? Because they share real stories of real people? We are going to meet people that have had these kinds of experiences. Even our own students have had those experiences.

I find it so mind boggling that we have had so many people, students, parents and taxpayers come up here and voice our concerns about these issues – yet somehow we seem to be getting nowhere.

We are tired of doing this. 

Stop banning books. Gay people aren’t a threat. People of color aren’t a threat. Education is not indoctrination.

To quote one last line from Newsies, “Why didn’t you just come talk to us?”

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Amanda Berg
Amanda Berg

Amanda Berg is a photographer based in Harrisburg, Pa. Her photojournalism chronicling Pennsylvania's politicians, thought-leaders, and policymakers appears frequently in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.