film & video
This page looks at debate about censorship in education:
what is taught in educational institutions (including
banning of textbooks), the shape of libraries and restrictions
on expression by students.
It covers -
Censorship, for many people, begins at school.
It encompasses restrictions on what students can say (often
the same restrictions facing other members of society
but seen as problematical because students have a special
dispensation to question and provoke before they enter
It encompasses restraints on what is taught and how that
matter is taught, with for example debate in the US and
elsewhere about the place of 'intelligent design' in a
science curriculum and about 'political correctness'.
It also encompasses debate about student access to particular
texts - earlier pages of this guide noted that classics
have been bowdlerised or suppressed - and to online content
in wired schools.
More insidiously, it encompasses evident and covert surveillance
of teachers and students. That surveillance may provide
a basis for pervasive self-censorship, with US students
for example being suspended
for expression in MySpace or other social network service
sites and 'busted' over blog-posts.
Two points of entry are the thoughtful Battle of the
Books: The Curriculum Debate in America (New York:
Norton 1992) by James Atlas and Helen Horowitz's Rereading
Sex: Battles over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in
Nineteenth Century America (New York: Knopf 2002).
The culture wars are also evident in US debate about textbook
censorship, highlighted in works such as Diane Ravitch's
The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict
What Students Learn (New York: Knopf 2003) and Joan
Delfattore's What Johnny Shouldn't Read: Textbook
Censorship in America (New Haven: Yale Uni Press
US textbook censorship has a long history but gained particular
attention in the 1970s when Educational Research Analysts,
a far-right advocacy group (Edgar Allan Poe was too gruesome,
Robin Hood was a dangerous advocate of income redistribution),
influenced textbook publishing across the nation by influencing
what books were chosen by the Texas state board. Of the
20 or so US states that choose books statewide, only California
is bigger than Texas. The expense of producing multiple
editions means that a book rejected by Texas might not
be printed at all.
It has been observed that in comparison people in Australia,
New Zealand, the UK and Canada seem more relaxed about
curriculum and texts, although Brought to Book: Censorship
& School Libraries in Australia (Port Melbourne:
ALIA Thorpe 1993) by Claire Williams & Ken Dillon
and Maurice Saxby's Offered To Children: A History
of Australian Children's Literature 1841-1941 (Sydney:
Ashton Scholastic 1993) suggests some disquiet.
In other nations the 'battle of the books' has major political
significance, with a decade of litigation in Japan for
example over suggestions for revision of junior and secondary
school texts that elide war crimes in accounts of the
period from 1922 to 1945.
The Japanese experience is incisively considered by Gavin
McCormack's 'The Japanese Movement to 'Correct' History'
in Censoring History: Citizenship & Memory in
Japan, Germany & the United States (Armonk: Sharpe
2000) edited by Laura Hein & Mark Selden. An online
account is here.
Complacency east of Hawaii might be offset by works such
as History Wars: The Enola Gay & Other Battles
for the American Past (New York: Metropolitan 1996)
edited by Edward Linenthal & Tom Engelhardt.
Western societies have traditionally allowed minors more
leeway in free speech than adults, with students enjoying
particular privileges. That is evident, for example, in
the leniency of convictions and prosecutions over activities
that would be more vigorously punished if made by working
class adult males.
In the US, with a culture of student journalism, issues
periodically arise regarding what is claimed to be defamatory,
seditious or obscene content. Some expression is tolerated,
with student nespapers enjoying considerable autonomy.
Some institutions instead intervene in what is submitted
to and published by newspapers.
Disagreement about supervision has been reflected in debate
about blogging by students,
whether under an institution's auspices or otherwise.
It is clear than some statements about teachers, fellow
pupils or other people can be defamatory
or represent ethnic/religious vilification. Particular
instutions have extended their boundaries by using disciplinary
codes to refuse entry to students while egregiously offensive
statements remain online.
We have noted debate about flag
burning in the US and Australia, and about clothing
(including headscarves and t-shirts) elsewhere on this
For Australia see An Historian's Life: Max Crawford
and the Politics of Academic Freedom (Carlton: Melbourne
Uni Press 2006) by Fay Anderson and Intellectual Suppression:
Australian Case Histories, Analysis and Responses
(Sydney: Angus & Robertson 1986) by Brian Martin.
Insights are offered by standard histories of political
surveillance - context for considering academic self-censorship
- such as Frank Cain's The Origins of Political Surveillance
in Australia (Sydney: Angus & Robertson 1983)
and The Australian Security Intelligence Organization:
An Unofficial History (London: Frank Cass 1994) or
David McKnight's Australia’s Spies and Their
Secrets (Sydney: Allen & Unwin 1994). Other works
are noted here. Provincialism
and paranoia are highlighted in Cassandra Pybus' Gross
Moral Turpitude (Melbourne: Heinemann 1993) on the
'Orr Affair' and The Devil and James McAuley
(St Lucia: Uni of Queensland Press 1999).
For Oxbridge see Judy Mabro's I Ban Everything: Free
Speech and Censorship in Oxford between the Wars
(Oxford: Ruskin College Library 1985) and Conrad Russell's
Academic Freedom (London: Routledge 1993).
Among the rich literature on frightening US academia see
Ellen Schrecker's No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and
the Universities (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1986)
and Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America
(Boston: Little Brown 1998).
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