School Censorship and the Null Curriculum

By Tedesco, Stephen | Our Schools, Our Selves, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview
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School Censorship and the Null Curriculum

Tedesco, Stephen, Our Schools, Our Selves


For many years, [North] American schools have been pressured to restrict or deny students access to books or periodicals deemed objectionable by some individual or group on moral, political, religious, ethnic, racial, or philosophical grounds... The fight against censorship is a continuing series of skirmishes, not a pitched battle leading to a final victory over censorship. (National Council of Teachers of English, 1981, f 1)

Today, with the pervasiveness of the Internet, this century-long battle against school censorship* continues to be one of the most controversial education disputes in North America. In Canada, the idea of censorship is particularly controversial because under Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms two of the fundamental freedoms afforded to all Canadians are the: "freedom of conscience and religion; [and the] freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication" (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Fundamental Freedoms section, para. 1). In Canada, a self-regulated body was established to monitor and regulate broadcast content (Canadian Broadcast Standards Council) and there are government agencies in place which settle discrimination disputes (Canadian Human Rights Commission); however, neither of these organizations regulate the material that students in the Canadian school system are exposed to. In this article I wiU provide a brief overview of the history of censorship in schools, identify current examples of censorship in schools and discuss how the censorship of materials in schools presents a "nuU curriculum" to the students.

A brief history of censorship in schools

"The most obvious example of censorship is where a government or one of its authorities restricts, say, a film or book because of its perceived harm or the offence it might cause" (Moss, 2006, p. 16). In Canada, the debate over "modern" book censorship in schools dates at least as far back as 1960 when a school in Port Credit, Ontario banned Evelyn Anthony's book Anne Boleyn based on its teachings of "immorality" (Canada Council for the Arts, 2008, p.27).

As explained by the National Council of Teachers of EngUsh: "We can safely make two statements about censorship: first, any work is potentially open to attack by someone, somewhere, sometime, for some reason; second, censorship is often arbitrary and irrational" (National Council of Teachers of EngUsh: 1981, f 2).

In today's schools, censorship goes beyond the library walls and affects every student in every classroom. In Canada, and abroad, there are poUcies in which school boards and/or individual schools have banned (censored) the use of: ceU phones; iPods; and popular websites (e.g. YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, WiMpedia). But while - at least with regard to the historical timeline of education in Canada - the debate over censorship is a relatively recent one, "it must be recognized as part of a much larger debate of students' rights versus school authority, which dates [much farther] back" (Trevor HaU & Carter, 2006, p.229). This statement introduces the crux of the problem: the rights of expression and access to ideas are essential underpinnings of the second section of the Canadian Charter of Rights, but experience and research suggest that some restrictions are necessary in order to provide a quality learning environment and instill values necessary to maintain a civilized and functioning society (Trevor Hall & Carter, 2006, p.229).

So, while "It must be kept in mind that the school's inculcative function is not antithetical to autonomy. . . ." students must first be provided some degree of autonomy by virtue of the freedoms our Charter offers since autonomy is the neeessary condition for students to learn how to funetion in a society of free and open discourse (Trevor Hall & Carter, 2006, p.229).

Philosophical underpinnings

Society trusts that the government and the agencies it establishes to serve and protect are doing just that.

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School Censorship and the Null Curriculum


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