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September 29, 2019

Censorship of Teachers and Students

By Kevin Anthony Stoda

All of our lives we face some sort of censorship from media, but our schools are called to do the same. How many good teachers have been tossed aside do to self-censorship or open censorship in schools and educational settings in the USA? How many students have had their right to protest and to write under first amendment been hampered by censorship?

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According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, " The First Amendment safeguards the right of every American to speak and think freely. Its promise of freedom of expression and inquiry is important to educators and students. The First Amendment protects educators' ability to exercise their judgment in accordance with professional standards and provides the latitude to create learning environments that effectively help young people acquire the knowledge and skills needed to become productive, self-sufficient, and contributing members of society."

Just as all Americans are disappointed in how media and government have been unable to provide a free and fair internet playing field, educators and students find it difficult in their world to be honest, open and able to speak up and express themselves without censorship and repercussions.

JOHNSON COUNTY, KANSAS

For example, in 2018, in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, the "ACLU sued the district in federal court on behalf of three students and parents the district responded with a motion for the court to dismiss the lawsuit. " [Then] the ACLU has responded with a 33-page document asking the court to allow the case to continue forward."

The suit accused "the district of 'totalitarian-style censorship tactics' to suppress students' political speech on campus "merely to avoid controversy or discomfort.'"

Lauren Bonds, ACLU's legal director said, "Instead of simply acknowledging their violation of student First Amendment rights, the district appears to be doubling down on the mistakes they've made."

WYANDOTTE COUNTY, KANSAS

Later, in this same year a teacher, who had been vocal against the runaway duck and cover shooting drills at school spoke out and shared his distaste for the lack of focus on making schools really safe by reducing guns in Kansas City, Kansas and the United States. This same teacher in the same autumn of 2018 applied to teach the college level government and USA history classes in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools.

The teacher eventually found his application to teach social studies turned down, and immediately thereafter began to be harassed by the dean, a principal and other administrators, whom were obviously now aware of the teachers' vocally supporting progressive issues and civil/human rights (and development)in America and in American foreign policy practices around the world.

His Facebook profile, friends and family and others were looked into. Meanwhile, the teacher had over 400 blogs on such issues as immigrant rights and arguing against the school to prison pipeline system. (This same teacher noted that as early as 1991 he had been harassed out of working in western Kansas due to his opposition to the prison pipeline and his opposing the USA War in Iraq.)

Finally, the harassment of the teacher took new and vicious turns in January 2019. First, someone employing an email address from US military personnel in Afghanistan began to contact family and friends on his Facebook account and saying terrible things about this instructor and indicating everyone needed to defriend him. The basic line was that the teacher was dangerous and was un-American, etc.

That very same month, the instructor was suddenly placed on administrative leave on the most feeble of trumped-up charges. In Spring 2019, the school district finally forced the teacher out of the district without giving him due process.

CENSORSHIP OF STUDENT MEDIA

The Southern Poverty Law Center notes: " Censorship of student media is pervasive across the United States, despite the lack of substantial qualitative data to confirm a recent uptick in cases, media scholars and researchers say. "

The Center adds that over the past two years there has been a drastic increase in the number of student papers being stolen once published or put out for consumption. This occurs at both high school and collegiate levels.

Likewise, Sommer Ingram Dean, staff attorney at the Student Press Law Center, states "There's been a growing hostility between student publications and the administration and the community they're seeking to cover."

According to the Freedom Forum Institute: "Public school students do not lose their constitutional rights when they walk through the schoolhouse doors. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that "students in school as well as out of school are 'persons' under our Constitution." This means that they possess First Amendment rights to express themselves in a variety of ways. They can write articles for the school newspaper, join clubs, distribute literature, and petition school officials. "

However, "public school students do not possess unlimited First Amendment rights. Two legal principles limit their rights. First, as the Supreme Court has said, minors do not possess the same level of constitutional rights as adults. Second, the government generally has greater power to dictate policy when it acts in certain capacities, such as educator, employer or jailer. For instance, a school principal can restrict a student from cursing a teacher in class or in the hallway. However, the principal would have limited, if any, authority to punish a student for criticizing a school official off-campus." [1]

Finally, the "Free Speech Tracker was launched in 2017 at Georgetown University to monitor threats to political, social and intellectual expression in education, civil society and government. Eight of the 33 entries under "press" involved a student-run newspaper or media group the majority on high school campuses. More than half of the 200 entries, regardless of category, occurred in an academic environment, according to the database."

SELF-CENSORSHIP IN OUR SOCIETY

Whether it be the censoring of sex-education by well meaning parents or the eclipse in teaching evolution or creationism in schools demonstrate that censorship of any kind affects students and educators in many ways.

One of the worst form of censorship is banned books. In 2017, a major attempt to ban any of the works of Howard Zinn in classes in Arkansas took place just a few years after Indiana attempted to do the same.

Much of the most overt censorship in schools seems to come from conservatives. However, conservative teachers do have a good case that some of the more liberal forms of education impinge on their right to express themselves and what they think good character or good educational practices are. For example, any criticism of overt sex education is poo-pooed in states, like California, that are less conservative than Kansas, where I have lived till recently.

EDUCATING OUR STUDENTS

Project Censored has created a wonderful short curriculum on investigating censorship for our students across the nation. The students are first asked to turn outward and investigate their own local media for signs of censorship or self-censorship.

The curriculum desires note; " Most of our media sources are ultimately owned by a very small number of very large media corporations." Students are asked to make a list of all the media they consume in a "typical" day print media, television, video games, music, etc.

Then, the students are told to research and chart who ultimately owns each media example. [2] Instructors and students use http://www.cjr.org/resources/index.php and http://fair.org/interlocking-directorates to help discuss censorship focused on questions of ownership, parent companies, etc. Later, students are asked to "read and critique a daily newspaper or weekly news magazine, preferably one they have never read before. Apply ACME's "Questioning Media" principles, available for FREE download at ACME's web site. "

Another great resource for educators is the "National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) is an alliance of more than 50 national non-profits, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor and civil liberties groups. They have engaged in direct advocacy and education to support First Amendment principles. NCAC is unique in that they are national in scope, but often local in their approach, as they work with community members to resolve censorship controversies without the need for litigation." [2]

Meanwhile educators and their unions must take strong stand against filtering tools that adversely censor topics in their schools. Steven Brown has written a scathing attack on Rhode Islands' school practices and focused on the internet censorship that makes education worse for allboth teacher and students.

According to Brown,"censorship takes place invisibly, through the use of internet filtering programs that block certain categories of websites or even websites that mention specific words when students use school computers to access the internet. Although primarily designed to prevent access to pornography, the deeply flawed software, and school districts' widespread embrace of it, has a significant impact on classroom teaching. " Brown indicates that websites and videos on school bullying, gun control, on terrorism, and the Middle East were made off limits by these filters.

As I end this article, I would like educators to respond to this writing by sharing with me your own experiences and insights on censorship and self-censorship in schools or universities.

NOTES

[1] The area remains muddled because the Supreme Court has never addressed a student Internet speech case and has not addressed a pure First Amendment student speech/press case since 1988. As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote in 2002 in J.S. v. Bethlehem Area School District: "[u]nfortunately, the United States Supreme Court has not revisited this area for fifteen years. " Moreover, the advent of the Internet has complicated analysis of restrictions on speech." The issue becomes only more important as more and more students not only access the Internet frequently but also create their own home pages on social-networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook. (See Student Online Expression: What Do the Internet and MySpace Mean for Students' First Amendment Rights?). https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/first-amendment-center/topics/freedom-of-speech-2/k-12-public-school-student-expression/cyberspeech/

[2] Censorship and the First Amendment in Schools: A Resource Guide https://www.webjunction.org/documents/webjunction/Censorship_in_Schools_Learning_Speaking_and_Thinking_Freely_The



Submitters Website: http://eslkevin.wordpress.com/2009/07/09/3-big-paradigms-hol

Submitters Bio:

KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global issues.

"I am from Kansas so I also use the pseudonym 'Kansas' and 'alone' when I write and publish.- I-keep two blogs--one with BLOGGER and one with WORDPRESS.- My writings range from reviews to editorials or to travel observations.- I also make recommendations related to policy--having both a-strong background in teaching foreign languages and degrees in teaching in history and the social sciences.--As a Midwesterner, I also write on religion and living out ones faith whether it be as a Christian, Muslim or Buddhist perspective."

On my own home page, I also provide information for language learners and travelers http://www.geocities.com/eslkevin/-,- http://the-teacher.blogspot.com/-& http://alone.gnn.tv/

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