Strong Policies Protect Schools From Censors

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Washington--Written policies governing the selection and review of books and other learning materials may help school systems resolve conflicts over those materials without restricting what students may read.

So suggests the report of a nationwide survey of censorship in the nation's public schools conducted by the Association of American Publishers, the American Library Association, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

The survey--termed by its sponsors the most extensive of its kind ever undertaken--collected information on book selection policies and censorship pressures from 1,891 public elementary and secondary school administrators and librarians and from 21 state-level administrators.

More than one in five--22.4 percent--of the local school officials reported that classroom or library materials had been challenged in the period covered by the survey--September 1978, through spring 1980. The challenges to books, magazines, and films occurred in all regions of the country and in all types of communities.

Some Districts Do Better

Although the number of complaints was substantially higher among school districts with written policies, according to the report, those districts appeared to settle conflicts more equably, with fewer restrictions on the material available to students, and therefore with less negative impact on the educational environment.

Of the challenges reported by local school officials, 95 percent were attempts to limit rather than expand the information and viewpoints available to students. More than half of the responses describing the outcome of specific challenges indicated that some degree of censorship--restriction, removal, or destruction--was ultimately imposed. Challenges occurred with increasing frequency at higher grade levels, and, according to school administrators, affected school libraries more often than classrooms. More than three-quarters of the challenges were initiated by individuals, most often parents. In nearly a third of the cases, challengers had not read or viewed the material in full.

School librarians said that more than 30 percent of the challenges they reported were initiated by teachers, administrators, and other librarians. But school administrators--reporting on classrooms as well as school libraries--said that school personnel were responsible for less than 10 percent of the objections.

State Challenges

At the state level, the majority of challenges originated from groups, often from outside the state, according to chief textbook officers from 21 states with statewide adoption procedures for school books. In contrast to local districts, more than half of the cases at the state level sought to expand, rather than limit, information.

While objections related to sexuality and language were most often cited at the local level, the majority of challenges at the state level focused on ideological concerns, such as evolution and the teaching of values.

Nearly half of the state officers reported that the work of Educational Research Analysts of Longview, Tex. (run by Mel and Norma Gabler), had influenced recent adoption proceedings in their state.

Overall, survey findings support claims that censorship in the schools is increasing.

Moreover, because information was collected more than a year ago, some observers believe the report underestimates current censorship pressures, which, according to a spokesperson in the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, have increased dramatically since President Reagan's election last November.

The survey's sponsors suggest that schools take an active role in ensuring that the process of selecting school materials is carried on both professionally and equitably. (For the complete text of their recommendations for schools, see below.)

Vol. 01, Issue 01, Page 20

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