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