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Surprising Censorship


Q. I know every now and then, conservative parents try to get schools to censor books they think are too controversial. It's hard to get a consensus about what probably should be kept off the assigned reading lists as being R- or X-rated. This may be because so many teachers are so much more liberal, politically, than the parents of the children they're paid to teach. Or if not the teachers themselves, the professors, workshop consultants or union leaders who influence teachers so very much. No one wants censorship, of course, but we all want good judgment on the part of both parents and teachers. What's the status of academic freedom for teachers in this day and age?


Ironically, the undue censorship is all on the part of the educators, not the parents and taxpayers. It's ironic because the educators are supposed to be society's open-minded seekers of truth. Censorship has no part in a well-run school, but apparently, it rears its ugly head quite often.


And it's the left-thinking people in public education doing the censorship, not the right-wingers. Leftist educators have tended more and more to exclude, or censor, conservative works of literature in favor of contemporary, liberal or even radical literature that often depicts graphic sex, violence, perversions, profanity, drug and alcohol use, and other topics and issues that are highly offensive to many parents. When parents complain that they want their children to read the classics, the educators attack them as censors. But that's not correct.


Remember, censorship can only be done by the government. Parents and taxpayers can't actually censor ideas. They can influence book selection, of course. But they have no censorship power. Only the government, in the form of public employees paid by schools for their judgment and supposedly dedicated to teaching children all sides of all stories, can withhold content from children in school. And by excluding classic and conservative books, public schools have done plenty of censorship lately - although as it's being exposed, it's being reduced, fortunately.


Unfortunately, parents and teachers often have to resort to legal action to force a school district to quit censoring content illegally. That happened in California, when the Cupertino Union School District reached a settlement with an elementary school teacher who alleged the district unlawfully prohibited him from providing supplemental handouts of historical documents to students based on the fact that they contained religious content.


The Alliance Defense Fund filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Stevens Creek Elementary School teacher. The district ultimately agreed that teachers should be allowed to teach children about real history, even if the documents they are teaching happen to contain religious content, such as the Declaration of Independence, as long as the materials are not being used to try to influence a student's religious beliefs.


That finding should encourage parents who wish to protest their school's apparent censorship of the classics of children's literature. Oftentimes, the reason districts withhold best-loved classics is that they have content that appears to promote Christianity, which the educators mistakenly believe should not be taught to children.


As an example, the classic Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe depicts the hero reading the Bible, constructing a cross, converting a native cannibal to Christianity, and thinking about divine providence in his survival tale. Educators who believe that they must censor such content are denying students the study of the first novel in English, and an engaging, interesting read at that. It's a crying shame. But if more parents would complain, censorship could be turned around.



Homework: Parents who complain about objectionable books being taught in school, or available in the school library, aren't censors. They are exercising their rights as advisors to schools in book selection and looking out for their minor children. For more information, see the website of Parents Against Bad Books in Schools,


By Susan Darst Williams Controversies 08 2008


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