Censorship: To censor, or not to censor? Essay

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Censor-ship- The practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts. This is the Merriam-Webster definition of censorship. However some may argue that this vague definition sheds little light on the many cases of censorship. People against censorship such as English scholars would argue that censorship is far more complex than the definition that Merriam Webster has offered. Those against censorship would probably agree with the expose offered by www.conservativetruth.org, and it is as follows; Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons”individuals, groups or government officials”find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, Dont let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it! Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it.

The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone. What has been offered to us by www.conservativetruth.org seems to be quite bias. It seems if we are to ask supporters of censorship we would find that the definition once again changes quite drastically. We would be told that censorship is the right of society to protect young minds of the future generations from empty rhetoric or mature subject matter. Therefore the question to address is if censorship persists, then is intellectual freedom compromised. Which leads us to the history of censorship; now we will examine the roles of parents, teachers, the community, and government officials on censorship. As well as to how it relates to race, gender, and class. Perhaps then parents can answer the question for themselves to censor, or not to censor? Is censorship a legitimate instrument in regulating the moral and political life of the population?

History of Censorship

For centuries books have been challenged, burned, and censored according to the moral constraints of various segments of American society. The first
book burning in America took place in 1650, in Colonial Massachusetts. William Pynchon published his pamphlet The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption that dealt with the doctrine of atonement. After its publication, the General Court confiscated his written work and sentenced the book to be burned. Even after the Bills of Rights were established, the right of free speech was still being denied, as evidenced by the many examples of censorship in America.

Reasons Books Are Censored

Literature is frequently censored when it oversteps socially accepted norms. Anything that veers from traditional perspectives on sexuality, social roles, parental authority, and a wide variety of other such matters is considered taboo and subject to censorship. Instead of exploring these taboos and breaking down the confusion which may exist, the books are completely banned and ignored. According to a national survey conducted in 1996 by People for the American Way, the primary reason most material was challenged was due to sexuality that was offensive or which contained the acceptable norms of that area of the country. The second reason most Material was banned was profane and objectionable language. The notion of censorship is more sensitive when it involves minors in a public school setting. What rights, restraints, and freedom to learn do these children possess? Does the First Amendment of the United States apply to citizens under the age of eighteen?

First Amendment and Free Speech

While the First Amendment constitutionally ensures the right to free speech, it is constantly challenged. Demac claims, People proudly point to the Bill of Rights as an impenetrable shield and boast that we Americans enjoy a kind of free speech that is almost absolute. Granted there is a whole area of interpretation, balance or rights, duties, and responsibilities that play into interpreting the First Amendment. However, a common myth is that some Americans often believe that freedoms and rights are written in stone and therefore indisputable. However, review of multiple court cases ranging from dealings with religion, press, or protests demonstrates that the outcomes are different. Therefore, many cases suggest that interpretation of the First Amendment is often up to individual perception unless already set as a precedent.

Cases of Censorship

In 1974, the Kanawha County case of West Virginia is a great example of a community struggling with censorship; as it is examined in Robert ONeils Classrooms in the Crossfire. On March 12 1974, the English Language Arts Textbook Committee of Kanawha County recommended 325 books and textbooks to the school board for use in Kanawha elementary schools. This would be the first time a new state curriculum in Kanawha had pushed the concepts of multiculturalism and egalitarianism. However school board member Alice Moore alleged that the new curriculum conflicted with Christian values, moral uprightness, and patriotism.

She argued that the textbooks taught children to disrespect the beliefs of their parents and taught a brand of relativism that did not belong in West Virginia. She stated that the textbooks unduly favored blacks, and that they were filthy disgusting trash. By June a violent boycott was underway, 9,000 of 45,000 students were kept at home as participation in the boycott. Elementary schools were bombed and the families of those who continued to attend school were harassed and their homes were stoned. By April 1975 Marvin Horan was arrested and sentenced to three years in relation to the bombings, effectively ending the demonstration. By fall of 1975 the school board had restored the entire collection of the original chosen books for the curriculum.

In the Afro American Newspaper printed February 4, 1978, Racial Slurs or not, child must go to school. On June 9, 1975 Siba Baum, attending the seventh grade at Selden Junior High School in Middle Country School District No. 11, Suffolk County, New York, the child who has been found by the Family Court, to be neglected by her mother, Jeanne Baum, received from her English teacher, Carol Duarte, a book report she had written dealing with the autobiography of Geronimo, edited by S. M. Barrett. In her report Siba was critical of the way in which Whites had treated Native Americans, characterizing it as cruelty.

She wrote that since the white people have been here they have been absolutely inhumane to any other races that have been here, and that she had learned from the book that white men (i.e., the White editor of the book) cant wright about a Indians point of view and that she would not recommend this book to anyone. S. M. Barrett sugars everything over that happened in those times. In returning the report, and in addition to other comments, the teacher wrote the following: Work on your spelling, I agree with your feelings of anger. However I have an uncle who is a Wampanoag Indian and his point of view is that the Indians got what they deserved.

Censorship Effects on Students

Donna Demac claims, since its origin in the nineteenth century, American public school education has had as one of its primary goals the assimilation of diverse peoples and the teaching of social tolerance. Censorship may contradict this goal by preventing students to being exposed to multiple opinions, lifestyles, and cultures. Therefore one of the goals of public schools is oppose of it actions such as censorship. Literature is a primary avenue through which young people are exposed to and learn about other cultures. Yet banning books can potentially impact public schools in a manner that limits students. Teachers may suffer a loss or at least a Limitation of their academic freedom when censorship enters a classroom; A large concern of teachers is that the freedom of professional classroom teachers to design and implement curriculum must be protected as censorship undermines the creation of an informed citizenry able to make critical judgments among competing ideas Carey-Webb. Curriculums that are not censored reflect the worlds diversity and offer students the chance to broaden their knowledge of other people and cultures.

According to Joan DelFattores, What Johnny Shouldnt Read, is an expose as to how special interest groups influence the contents of textbooks. DelFattore claim that these groups have hidden agendas in their efforts to censor future generation teachings and literature. Therefore the students are not provided the freedom to form opinions. The teachers mandate to educate and expand a childs mind is sometimes affected by the desire of that individual to ensure his/her own job security. The entire community is closely watching educators to determine whether their methods are suitable for the students. Daily newspapers across the nation are covering the roles that schools play in childrens lives. Furthermore, many groups and organizations put pressure upon teachers.

These groups may be a combination of parents, churches, or other community leaders. Even when censorship does not originate from within a school, in fact even when no controversy exists, there is pressure for teachers to align themselves with the views of the powers that be. Those who rock the boat or question the status quo are viewed as troublemakers. Being good teachers-like being good students-often means accepting the authority of others, not resisting or challenging it. Not only does censorship rob students of the freedom to read without restrictions, but it can also inhibit teachers right to educate by using materials that offer a wide range of information and perspectives.

If we are to understand education in its broadest sense, which simply is habits of a group of people sustained from one generation to the next. However in its technical sense, education is the process by which society deliberately transfers gathered knowledge, skills, customs, and values from one generation to another. Censorship directly challenges this process. If we are to trust students to become adults that can form theories and opinions about other theories and opinions, then all of the information needs to be taken into consideration. One would not perform a science experiment without taking into consideration all the variables. If then, why send young adults into the world without all the facts?

A Look at the Pros and Cons of Censorship

Free speech vs. censorship what are the pros and cons of censoring the media and the public? What are the terms of the censorship debate? Can censorship be justified or should the voice of the media and freedom of expression have free reign? What is the point of religious, corporate, and government censorship? Does anyone benefit from the censoring of information? Does society as a whole benefit in any way? The pros and cons of censorship deserve examining to decipher both the role of free speech in society and the role of different types of censorship.

The Pros of Censorship

Censorship is on the internet, in the news, on the ingredient listing of food products. Why? What purpose does it have in society today? Why censor the media and limit freedom of expression? At first glance it may seem that the censorship debate is black and white, it is wrong to censor information and limit free speech, right? There are reasons that governments, companies, and groups of people have practiced censorship. Censorship by the government has been justified as a means of protection of both the state and the people within it. This protection is not so much about physical preservation, but a force or guiding hand in the morals and values of the nation as a whole. According to the Beacon for Freedom of Expression project, in ancient cultures censorship was accepted as a way to regulate morals and the politics of the people. While there is not a focus on individual rights, it is a focus on the well-being of the whole, of the nation.

For example, in America public radio stations cannot legally play anything they want, obscenities and profanity are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. This is to protect the sensibilities of the whole at the sacrifice of the free expression of the individual. As another example, corporate news stations in the United States practice self-censorship; although there are hundreds, if not thousands of relevant news stories nationally and internationally, only a select few topics are covered by all of the major news stations.

Does this not protect and stabilize power by the moral compass of the nation? Corporations may censor information as a means of self-preservation. Trade secrets are legally kept from the public and other companies in order for the business to maintain legitimacy as a unique entity. For example, if a restaurant makes the best tomato soup in the world, why would customers go to the original restaurant if they could make the soup at home or if they could purchase it at another location?

The Cons of Censorship

If the censoring of information acts as a form of protection, then it should exist without criticism, right? While there are legitimate pros of censorship, the cons are just as important, if not more so: ¢Individuals are not able to express themselves freely

¢The press is not free to report what it believes to be important ¢The spread and sharing of information is stifled
¢Biases and homogeneous ideas prevail

All of these problems are the characteristics of a repressed society. Without the freedom for expression and creativity, new ideas, methods, technological innovations, and art may not happen. The more censorship in society; the less creation by individuals.

Free Speech vs. Censorship

Just as the justification of censorship is more important for the group than the individual, the negative impact of censorship is oppressive for the individual, but catastrophic for the whole. Without free speech an individual may not be able to publish what they want, but the group loses access to sources of information and is encouraged to follow a singular line of thinking rather than to create, question, and inquire. This is not only uncomfortable, it is dangerous. If people do not have the ability to seek as much information as they want, and if new creative works are not encouraged then society as a whole cannot evolve, or thrive. While there are pros of censorship and reasonable justifications, the lack of a debate may be the first step backwards to a society that embraces the dictates of the state, the corporation, and the institution rather than the inquiring, free-thinking mind of the individual.

Kennedy King Survey on Censorship

Survey conducted amongst students at Kennedy King¦Who should have the overall say on censorship: 80% say parents 10% say legislature & 8% say both. When polled on how censorship is viewed in America: 20% say its a violation of the first amendment, 20% feel its to protect society, & 60% believes its regulation of content. When asked should textbooks & other literature be censored in schools 15% of those that are nonparents say yes & 35% say yes, where as 20% of those that are parents say yes & 30% say no. This information was based on a poll conducted on 50 people. So should parents censor textbooks and other literature in schools? According to the conducted survey, many parents concern is age appropriateness. As weve explored there is so much more to consider on censorship.

Again going back to what education is, if parents were to regulate school material it just may be as chaotic as the Kanawha County case. So, has the time come for parents to become their own censors; to take over a task long considered the position of government-backed agencies? There are two main reasons for raising the question; first, because these days government bodies seem to be neglecting their duties in this area, and second, because parents (thanks to the age of technology) now have the capacity to do the job themselves. Whatever your opinion, the fact is that more and more parents are taking up the challenge, not only where the films they show their kids are concerned, but in all areas of access to information and entertainment, from news publications and music to internet access, Huffington Post, NY.


An expose on censorship in the United States: Detailing what censorship is and exploring the history of censorship. Highlighting cases on censorship, (Kanawha County, Siba Baum) racism and resistance of school curriculum. Why censorship is necessary, the effects censorship has on students, the pros and cons of censorship. Free speech as it pertains to censorship, Kennedy King polling on censorship. Parents views and rights on censoring school literature and other material; bias and non bias opinions on censorship. Censorship and society in public forums.

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