Censorship in Schools: More than makes the headlines

censorship [remix]

Image by the|G|™ via Flickr

Book challenges and banning get all the media attention but they are a small minority of the censorship that occurs in schools.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), 11,000 book challenges occurred in the past 20 years.

To call attention to these challenges and highlight the books banned as a result, the last week of September each year is designated Banned Book Week by the ALA and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL).

It is absolutely imperative to defend intellectual freedom and fight against book challenges, but in paying so much attention to them, it is easy not to notice the more pervasive and far more prevalent censorship that occurs in every public school every minute it is open.

I’m talking about censorship of the Internet.

The federal Children’s Internet Protection Act requires schools to ensure that children are not exposed to sexually explicit words and images in order to qualify for Federal technology subsidies. Almost all schools accomplish that by using filters that are designed to stop obscenity before it reaches student computers.

Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against blocking student access to pornography at school, they get more than enough exposure to sexual messages in the mainstream media. But internet filters block much more than pornography.

“What we have is what I consider brute force technologies that shut down wide swaths of the internet, like all of YouTube, for example. Or they may shut down anything to do with social media, or anything that is a game. These broad filters aren’t very helpful because we need more nuanced filtering.” Karen Cator, United States Department of Education Director of Education Technology (Barseghian, 2011).

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Image by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

Even the National Educational Technology Plan notes that in some cases internet filtering “creates barriers to the rich learning experiences that in-school internet access should afford students” and that tools such as blogs, wikis and social networks have the potential to support student learning and engagement.

Some argue that the anxiety over the internet that leads to filtering has less to do with possible student exposure to pornography or other sexual content and more to do with fear of unfettered ideas and the technology through which ideas are transmitted.

“Filters would not be placed on computers if government officials, religious moralists and the competitive marketplace didn’t feel their control slipping away or threatened” (Bissonnette, 2003).

Decisions about what to filter are made by filtering companies that are not held accountable to anyone and which refuse to explain the criteria for their decisions because they are trade secrets.

Educators and educational needs have been totally taken out of the picture.

New Canaan High School librarian Michelle Luhtala says the same issues of censorship, fear and free speech that make banned books resonate also apply to social networking sites that most schools block.

“Teaching with social media shows students how to responsibly use those platforms. Blocking access denies kids the chance to practice sharing their knowledge with the real world in a supervised setting” (Toppo, 2011)

Thanks largely to her efforts the ALA and AASL have declared September 28th to be Banned Sites Day.

One day. It is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to protect student intellectual freedom and access to all age-appropriate learning materials.

Despite the efforts to restrict or cleanse the materials in school libraries, racial slurs, bullying, obscene language, sex scenes and violence will always appear in books students read. There will always be challenging themes, emotionally charged scenes, and characters with few traits to admire.

“Pretending there are no choices to be made — reading only books, for example, which are cheery and safe and nice is a prescription for disaster for the young,” asserts author Lois Lowry who has seen her book The Giver challenged and removed from libraries.

“Submitting to censorship is to enter the seductive world of The Giver, the world where there are no bad words, no bad deeds. But it is also the world where choice has been taken away and reality distorted.”

“And that is the most dangerous world of all.”

References

American Library Association (2011). Number of Challenges by Year, Reason, Initiator & Institution (1990 – 2010). Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengesbytype/index.cfm

Barseghian, T. (2011, April 26). Straight from the DOE facts about blocking sites in schools. Retrieved from http://mindshift.kqed.org/2011/04/straight-from-the-doe-facts-about-blocking-sites-in-schools/

Bissonnette, S.T. (2003). Smothering Free Speech. Journal of Library Administration; 2003, Vol. 39 Issue 2/3, p87-105. doi: 10.1300/J111v39n02_08

Lowry, L. (2005). A dangerous utopia. RHI for High School Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.randomhouse.com/highschool/RHI_magazine/pdf3/Lowry.pdf

National Educational Technology Plan. US Dept. of Ed. 2010, 54.

Toppo, G. (2011, July 25). Web restrictions draw ire of some educators. USA Today Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2011-07-25-banned-websites-school_n.htm

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6 Responses to Censorship in Schools: More than makes the headlines

  1. johntspencer says:

    Interesting how censorship and Big Brother are awful when it’s Salinger, but if it’s an entire site like Facebook then it’s okay.

    • Deven Black says:

      Facebook, YouTube, all personal blogs, games (though not all games) and, for a couple of weeks, Google Images are blocked in NYCDOE schools. The worst of it is, if I find a blocked website that I think should not be blocked, I cannot request that the block be lifted. Only a principal can do that.

  2. Censorship is also about eliminating access. Like cutting access to school libraries, teacher librarians, library curriculum, online resources, and the list goes on. See the California Campaign for Strong School Libraries at librarycampaign.csla.net

    Best wishes! Keep up the good fight for our kids and our future!

  3. Book Banning says:

    [...] Censorship in Schools: More than makes the headlines (educationontheplate.wordpress.com) [...]

  4. Angel Read says:

    I agree with you here… first of all students can often find ways to get to “blocked” sites if they really want to. Second of all, it is hard to decide once and for all what needs to be blocked… like, does a video game depicting people shooting each other with nerf darts count as violence? I think that making sure students in schools are supervised while using the computer is a much better idea… just keep an eye on them, walk around and check on what they are doing, keep your ears open for whispers and giggles that signal that they’re doing something they shouldn’t be!

  5. alavare says:

    “Pretending there are no choices to be made — reading only books, for example, which are cheery and safe and nice is a prescription for disaster for the young,” asserts author Lois Lowry who has seen her book The Giver challenged and removed from libraries.
    Love this quote. Thanks for a great post.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have encouraged parents to use difficult/challenging material as a platform for discussion with their kids. If kids are exposed to all kinds of ideas and have the ability to discuss those ideas or situations with others, they will become more thoughtful and capable adults!

    Awful about the filtering being protected under “trade secrets.” I’d love to see schools, libraries, etc say that we wouldn’t go with a product unless they could tell us what it does and doesn’t limit access to. Wishful thinking?

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