Educational Editorial: Books and censorship

By Dr. Bill Bosher, NBC12 Educational Specialist

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The recent decision of the Henrico County School Board to remove a book from middle school libraries has generated much debate.

The anti-censorship folks proclaim that schools are educational institutions that should expose young people to a range of content that represents real life. Those who champion the review and removal of potential controversial materials feel that there is enough literature available without the risks of obscenity.

John Milton's 17th Century "Areopagitica" is considered one of the most passionate defenses of free speech. And yet he keenly demonstrates the challenges that come with shaping acceptable discourse while protecting against unbridled censorship.

The question for public schools is perhaps less complex, "What is appropriate material to be used in teaching young people who have been required to attend."

It is paradoxical that some would very narrowly interpret the First Amendment separation of church and state but very broadly interpret the expression of speech. The expression of faith may offend but the use of vulgar literature will enlighten.

While schools should clearly teach young people to solve problems and think critically, they are not places that are responsible for testing the elasticity of values. Classroom instruction is no more responsible for exposing young people to crude and violent literature with the hope that they will reject it that it is to engage them in an automobile accident with the hope that they will avoid it.

Either way the risk for harm is too great. In 1964 Justice Potter Stewart noted in trying to define obscenity, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced…but I know it when I see it."

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