17. GROWING CENSORSHIP IN AMERICA'S SCHOOLS

The censorship of some "Doonesbury" cartoon strips received widespread mass media exposure during 1979. Yet the media failed censorship taking place in our nation's schools.

Historically, the classroom has been seen as a "marketplace of ideas" with the nation's future dependent on leaders trained through wide exposure to a robust exchange of ideas which discover truth "out of a multitude of tongues rather than through any kind of authoritative selection."

Nevertheless, a survey of 2,000 high school teachers, conducted in 1979 by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), revealed a rapidly growing tend toward censorship in schools. Three modern classics -- Catcher in the Rye, 1984, and The Grapes of Wrath -- rank 1-2-3 on the list of objectionable books.

Professor Edward B. Jenkinson, chair of the NCTE anti-censorship committee, estimates there are some 200 groups trying to dictate the content of school materials -- and not limited to so-called "dirty books." What's at stake, Jenkinson believes, is a battle over "virtually everything over who will control the minds of children."

Despite the severity of the problem, Jenkinson says that probably not more than one in twenty-five instances of school book censorship ever reaches the cold white light of media publicity.

A few recent examples of censorship include: A Little Rock, Arkansas, high school librarian who returned five books to their publishers because they failed to meet literary standards or contained what she considered "unsuitable" content; the cancellation of a subscription to Psychology Today at a Waterliet, Michigan, high school, because the school superintendent characterized the ads as "offensive;" and a Mathews, Virginia, high school teacher who was fired after he asked his students to read Brave New World. Also, poems, instructional films, school yearbooks, and student newspapers all have undergone prominent and growing censorship pressure.

Indicative of the scope of the problem is that pressure has been brought to censor publications such as Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report, Dr. Lee Burress, who completed the NCTE study, says some people object to students reading such news magazines because they "realistically reflect the world."

The lack of media exposure given this growing form of censorship in our schools qualifies this story for nomination as one of the "best censored" stories of 1979.

SOURCES:

American Library Association Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, September, 1979; Parade, April 15, 1979.