Censorship in Schools

1 January 2017

Book-banning has been going on for a long time in the United States. Today, there is a group of reviewers who read questionable books to determine whether the objectionable material, such as racism and vulgar language, is outweighed by the educational value of the books in question. (Petress 1) There are ideas that are found in textbooks that are also in question.

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Evolution is the central idea that is in question when it comes to censorship in school. There have been many cases that have gone to the higher courts that dispute the teaching of evolution in our American schools. Finally, when it comes to what students are allowed to wear, one interesting topic arose in my research. The banning of “body art”, piercings and tattoos, may not seem as common as the banning of books or ideas; but body art is being seen as a sign of rebellion and therefore is a subject of censorship in today’s schools. (Hudson 1).

There are obvious benefits to censorship in American schools. Some argue that preventing our children from viewing or even learning about dangerous or objectionable material, i. e. books, textbooks, and body art, will help prevent rebellion from our students. (Hudson 1). I propose that instead of censoring ideas, books or body art, we teach our children how to deal with what they see in a way that will jumpstart the change that is wanted by those who want to censor these ideas. The censorship of body art is only an extension of the censorship of individuality and self-expression.

There are a great number of schools in America today that have banned many things involved in self-expression. I do agree that there must be some form of a dress code emphasizing on what is socially appropriate for our teens. That does not mean that students who must wear a uniform to school should not be allowed to create their own individuality when it comes to body art, accessories or whatever makes them who they are. In an article that I found on the About web site, a mother of a 13 year old girl took her daughter to get her navel pierced.

Her daughter was not rebellious; she was an honor student who wanted to express herself by proving that she could accomplish something that she feared. After she got the piercing, the 13 year old exclaimed “I’m so proud of me! ” This was a powerful statement from a 13 year old when life at this age is confusing. (Hudson 1). I agree that there must be limits as to what is socially acceptable; however, the overall ban of self-expression and individuality will only cause rebellion. The next step after censoring what students are allowed to wear is censoring what they are allowed to read.

Reading is one of the greatest tools that our mind possesses, and by limiting our student’s access to great works of art, we are therefore limiting the use of their minds. The New Jersey State Bar Foundation states that the most significant instance of book censorship occurred in 1982 with the case of Board of Education v. Pico. (Emert 1) This case began in 1976 when the Island Trees Union Free School District School Board on Long Island, New York removed 11 books from the junior and senior high school libraries. The books were removed due to their vulgar language, discussion of sex, and other objectionable material.

The books include two Pulitzer Prize winners. The Fixer by Bernard Malamud, a novel in which Yokov Bok is convicted of “ritual murder” and punished for his crimes by a group of agents. When he is pushed too far, he triumphs over almost incredible brutality and becomes a moral giant. The other is Laughing Boy by Oliver LaFarge in which a young Native American silversmith falls for an American educated Navajo girl. As they enjoy all the joys and uncertainties of young love, the couple must deal with a changing way of life and its consequences in 1915.

In 1977, the parents of the five students filed a law suit stating that the students First Amendment rights had been violated and that the removal of the books was unconstitutional. After the case made it to the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the removal of the books was unconstitutional. U. S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote “we hold that local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books. ” (Emert 1).

It is important to note that fiction is not the only category of books that are being censored. Evolution has always been a debated topic. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution which states that mankind has descended from a lower order of animals (Censorship in Schools, IV, 4), contradicts with the basis of our government. The United States government is based on the bible. Therefore, if you take into consideration this idea that the U. S. government is based on the bible, teaching evolution to our students undermines the foundation of our government. However, Charles Darwin only crated a theory.

We encourage our students to think outside the box. Creative thinking is a key process in developing any new idea. It is contradictory to refuse to teach a theory about evolution, while also encouraging student to come up with new theories of their own. The case of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes where Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution in Dayton, Tennessee 1925 is the most studied case when it comes to the teaching of evolution. (Herndon 8). John Scopes was arrested for teaching Darwin’s Theory of evolution, which was against Tennessee law at the time.

There are many opinions as to whether the case was a victory for either side, but the fact of the matter is that the information was now out and being talked about. A more recent case is McClean v. Arkansas which made it clear that in Arkansas, “Balanced Treatment” is to be used when teaching either evolutionary science or creation science. (Herndon 9). That is that if a teacher decides to teach either evolutionary or creation science, they will be limited to scientific evidence only and must not have any reference to religious preference or contain religious writings. (Herndon 9).

It is true that the teaching of evolution is accepted more today than in the past, however, it is still limited. When we limit access to materials or ideas that may be objectionable, we limit possibilities. We should not be telling our students that they are not allowed to express themselves in certain ways. This suppression will only cause these students to rebel. We must allow self-expression in all its facets so that our students’ minds will grow. What if a young high schooler were to read a story about racism and overcoming adversity, and from there changes his/her life to become a great leader.

If that student was never allowed to read this inspirational story, she/he may not have had that life changing experience needed to make a change. As stated earlier, limiting access to dangerous material is necessary. That does not mean that we should not teach our students about this material. Learning about dangerous and objectionable issues is the only way to break the stigma of the issue itself. With knowledge comes progress. By censoring what is learned in schools, we are not progressing; we are just staying in the realm of what we know.

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