Policies and practices designed to respect free expression and encourage discourse and discussion are rarely, if ever, disturbed by courts B. The decision to remove material is more vulnerable, and often places motivation for the removal at issue since actions motivated by hostility to particular ideas or speakers is not permitted C. The deference frequently shown school administrators with regard to the curriculum is not always accorded when a dispute arises over material in the school library Introduction: This document describes in practical terms what the right to freedom of expression means for the public schools.
We hope it provides students, teachers and administrators with a deeper understanding of their constitutionally guaranteed rights and responsibilities, as well as renewed respect for the power of free expression to enhance the educational experience. But education, they also knew, involved more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. Education in a democratic society requires developing citizens who can adapt to changing times, make decisions about social issues, and effectively judge the performance of public officials.
In fulfilling their responsibilities, public schools must not only provide knowledge of many subject areas and essential skills, but must also educate students on core American values such as fairness, equality, justice, respect for others, and the right to dissent.
Rapid social, political, and technological changes have escalated controversy over what and how schools should teach. While issues like sexuality and profanity have raised questions for generations, debates are becoming more and more contentuous thanks to increasing cultural, religious, ethnic, and religious diversity. Thus, educators frequently face a daunting task in balancing the educational needs of a diverse entire student body while maintaining respect for individual rights.
The First Amendment establishes the framework for resolving some of these dilemmas by defining certain critical rights and responsibilities. It protects the freedom of speech, thought, and inquiry, and requires respect for the right of others to do the same.
The First Amendment and Public Schools Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The First Amendment The first provision of the Bill of Rights protects the rights essential to a democratic society and most cherished by Americans: It embodies human rights that are celebrated throughout the world.
However, the First Amendment applies somewhat differently in schools than it does in many other public institutions. As many commentators have observed, a democracy relies on an informed and critical electorate to prosper. Given the complexity of these responsibilities, school officials are generally accorded considerable deference in deciding how best to accomplish them.
Des Moines , speech is not quite as free inside educational institutions as outside. This does not mean that students and teachers have no First Amendment rights at school. Students cannot claim, for instance, that they have the right to have incorrect answers to an algebra quiz accepted as correct, nor can teachers claim a right to teach anything they choose. Understanding Censorship Censorship is not easy to define. Alternatively, many censors attempt to suppress speech simply because they disagree with it.
In many countries, censorship is most often directed at political ideas or criticism of the government. Advocates for censorship often target materials that discuss sexuality, religion, race and ethnicity—whether directly or indirectly.
Censorship demands require educators to balance First Amendment obligations against other concerns: There are practical and educational as well as legal reasons to adhere as closely as possible to the ideals of the First Amendment.
School districts such as Panama City, Florida, and Hawkins County, Tennessee, have been stunned to find that acceding to demands for removal of a single book escalated to demands for revising entire classroom reading programs. Other jurisdictions have been pressed to revise the science curriculum, the content of history courses, sex education, drug and alcohol education, and self-esteem programs.
Experience has shown far too many times that what appears to be capitulation to a minor adjustment can turn into the opening foray of a major curriculum content battle involving warring factions of parents and politicians, teachers, students and administrators.
Distinguishing Censorship from Selection Teachers, principals, and school administrators make decisions all the time about which books and materials to retain, add or exclude from the curriculum.
They are not committing an act of censorship every time they cross a book off of a reading list, but if they decide to remove a book because of hostility to the ideas it contains, they could be.
Not every situation is that simple. If professional educators can articulate a legitimate pedagogical rationale to maintain such material, it is unlikely that an effort to remove it would be successful. Most people do not consider it censorship when they attempt to rid the school of material they consider profane or immoral, or when they insist that the materials selected show respect for religion, morality, or parental authority.
School officials who accede to such demands may be engaging in censorship. Efforts to suppress controversial views or ideas are educationally and constitutionally suspect.
The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.
Yet profanity appears in many worthwhile books, films, and other materials for the same reasons many people use it in their everyday language—for emphasis or to convey emotion.
But even minor use of profanity has not shielded books from attack. Profanity, however, is only one of many grounds on which books are challenged. As these examples illustrate, censorship based on individual sensitivities and concerns restricts the knowledge available to students.
Based on personal views, some parents wish to eliminate material depicting violence; others object to references to sexuality, or to racially-laden speech or images.
If these and other individual preferences were legitimate criteria for censoring materials, school curricula would narrow to only the least controversial— and probably least relevant— material. Censorship also harms teachers. Teachers need latitude to respond to unanticipated questions and discussion, and the freedom to draw on their professional judgment, without fear of consequences if someone objects, disagrees, or takes offense.
When we strip teachers of their professional judgment, we forfeit the educational vitality we prize. When we quell controversy for the sake of congeniality, we deprive democracy of its mentors.
Censorship is an attitude of mistrust and suspicion that seeks to deprive the human experience of mystery and complexity. But without mystery and complexity, there is no wonder; there is no awe; there is no laughter. Norma Fox Mazur added: Censorship is crippling, negating, stifling.. It should be unthinkable in a country like ours.
Readers deserve to pick their own books. Writers need the freedom of their minds. To allow the censors even the tiniest space in there with us can only lead to dullness, imitation, and mediocrity. When the classroom environment is chilled, honest exchange of views is replaced by guarded discourse and teachers lose the ability to guide their students effectively.
How Big a Problem Is Censorship? The Numbers Censorship occurs every day. ALA states that between and , 5, challenges were reported to or recorded by its Office for Intellectual Freedom. During the school year alone, there were challenges to educational materials, according to People for the American Way PFAW. What Kind of Material Is Attacked? Almost 70 percent of censorship demands are directed at material in school classrooms or libraries.
Most of the remainder are aimed at public libraries. Parents lodge 60 percent of the challenges. The ALA offers an instructive analysis of the motivation behind most censorship incidents: The term censor often evokes the mental picture of an irrational, belligerent individual. Such a picture, however, is misleading. In most cases, the one to bring a complaint to the library is a concerned parent or a citizen sincerely interested in the future well being of the community.
Although complainants may not have a broad knowledge of literature or of the principles of freedom of expression, their motives in questioning a book or other library material are seldom unusual. Any number of reasons are given for recommending that certain material be removed from the library.
Complainants may believe that the materials will corrupt children and adolescents, offend the sensitive or unwary reader, or undermine basic values and beliefs.
Sometimes, because of these reasons, they may argue that the materials are of no interest or value to the community. While demands for censorship can come from almost anyone and involve any topic or form of expression, most involve concerns about sexual content, religion, profanity, or racial language.
Many incidents involve only one complaint, but can nonetheless trigger a contentious review process. Often, parents who support free expression do not step forward to the same extent as those seeking to remove materials, leaving school officials and teachers relatively isolated.
It is then their task to carefully assess the pedagogical value of the materials, to avoid simply giving in to angry demands that could undermine educational objectives and invite additional challenges in the future. The objection usually comes up when the material concerns sexuality, reflecting a fear that exposure to this subject undermines moral or religious values.
Since many non-objecting parents support informing even young children about sexual matters, it is clear that the content of the material as much as the age of the child lies at the heart of the objection. Acceding to pressure to censor in this situation can be tantamount to endorsing one moral or religious view over another.
Education proceeds in stages, with increasingly complex material presented as students gain the intellectual ability and knowledge to understand and process it. For this reason, young children usually do not learn physics or read Shakespeare.
Similarly, educators may decide that detailed scientific information about human reproduction might not be age-appropriate for six-year-olds, but would be appropriate for year-olds who have been introduced to basic biology.
She observes, however, that the rationale for psychological descriptions of the age at which certain behaviors generally occur has limited relevance to the selection of educational materials and literature in the classroom. Indeed, for such adults a pristine vision of youth often forms a wall between themselves and any adolescents they happen to know. That likelihood is lessened by the exposure the typical student has had to the controversial subject.
The books targeted by censors included both popular and classic titles, affecting almost every age group.