Kingston, Jamaica

Monday, April 22, 2013

Censoring Sexuality In School Texts: Freedom of Expression

In the United States of America and Jamaica, the use of educational policies to censor and suppress student's right to access information on human sexuality in school texts has been widely practiced. Sexuality is one of the most ancient and controversial topics or word in most countries across the world, particularly those countries or societies that are considered to have a conservative perspective on the use of the word and its content. Human sexuality extends across a broad, yet diverse spectrum of human behavior.  Homosexuality, Bisexuality and Heterosexuality are the intermediaries and extremes that are  aligned to the sexual hierarchy or spectrum. Societal ideologies help to dictate and form what is deemed as appropriate and acceptable or inappropriate and unacceptable when it comes to certain sexual choices. 

 Donelson (1987) cited in Jongsma (1991) suggested that "censorship frequently increases when the social fabric of a society is in despair." Hence, it is society or the leaders of our society's  role to shape and protect the moral,social and cultural fabric of their country. They achieve this by controlling the kinds of materials or information being circulated and fed to children, especially within the education system. "Schools as well as parents, churches and synagogues, and other groups shape children’s perceptions of the world by process of socialization. That is, the values, beliefs, and norms of society are internalized within children so that they come to think and act like other members of society,” (Sadovnik, 2001, p.122).

Thus, the censoring of sexual content or sexuality within schools texts is critical in maintaining moral and social order in society and controlling human socialization.  Censorship is one of the most practical and effective means by which any country or society silence, control and impede the flow or dissemination of a particular message or information to its members.  Similarly, Booth (1992) defined censorship as “the removal, suppression, or restricted circulation of literary, artistic, or educational images, and/or information on the grounds that they are morally or otherwise objectionable,” (p.9).  Content within school books are constantly reviewed and screened for inappropriate sexual language or illustrations. Who are censors? Most censors are parents who are concerned about the type of information their children are exposed to. Also Principals, teachers, administrators and censoring advocates are actively involved in censoring books.

School texts are there to share information/knowledge or inform people on a topic, work, and expression etc. Educational texts books in schools are intended to target students based on their age, and grade. The irony though, is that base on the appropriateness of the content, books are streamed in line with students' age and grade, in order to avoid the issue of censorship in schools. On the other hand, “Censorship is an abrogation of the right to know,” (Giddens, 1997, p.281).  As a result it infringes on the freedom of expression or intellectual freedom of individuals and the right of students to receive information.  Article 19 within The Universal declaration of Human Rights (1948) explicitly outlined  that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” (p.4). However, with ever right there are certain limitations. Although this may seem constitutional, nevertheless in some countries ones freedom of expression is seen as a privilege and not as a right.
 “Students have the right to be protected from things that are likely to affect them adversely. Parents have the right to expect schools to protect their children during their unquestionably impressionable years from such influences,” (Donelson, 1982 cited in Hansen 1987, p.123). Clearly, the right of the children and their parents would be considered over the Author’s right to freedom of expression when his/her book is being censored in school libraries. 

            Burress an American Writer asserts that “education is divisive. It only teaches the values of community but also holds them up to judgment. He further implies that there are many who feels that education is the indoctrination of students in the conventional beliefs of the local community,” (Burress, 1982 cited in Hansen, 1987, p.125). Thus, the vast inequity in terms of students’ right to access of information in the educational system.  In the United States, the act of censorship is well renowned. There has been a periodical battle between parents- school administration and between the school administrations – Authors over objectionable, inappropriate, and offensive content within school texts. Interestingly, the censoring of school texts in its true sense tends to involves the conflict theories of education. In that, “from a conflict point view, schools are similar to social battlefields, where students  struggle against teachers, teachers against administrators and so on,” (Sadovnik, 2001, p. 124).

For instance, Jongsma (1991) noted that “organizations such as the Educational Analysts. The Liberty Federation, the Eagle Forum. Parents for Decency in School, Citizens United for Responsible for Education, Save Our Schools, and Parents of America Responding to Educational Needs of Today’s Society are raising complaints about  texts used in schools all across the United States,” (p. 152). Obviously, parents are the main censors, who are at the forefront advocating or speaking out against books with offensive or objectionable language or image. Therefore, due to intense lobbying over the past decades, several books have been banned from school libraries or those recommended as school texts.

Additionally, “censorship emblematizes the classic liberal dilemma: the responsibility of a democracy to allow free expression to the most repugnant of ideas, even those that deny the very principles of freedom on which that hospitality is based,’’ (Geller, 1984, cited in Kidd, 2009, p. 200). In fact, in the United States sexuality is one of the most popular censored topics in reference to school texts. “As usual, complaints concerning sexual behavior  generally arise because the objectors feel that authors are not just merely describing but advocating the behavior,” (Booth, 1992, p. 41). Indeed, the practice of complaints helps to censor the expression of sexuality in school texts.  

Controversial themes, such as, Homosexuality and pornography, as well as how they are  depicted and illustrated in books often spark  outrage by parents and some teachers. The issue of morality is of conflict when it comes to homosexuality. The lifestyle is not accepted and refuted in school texts. Most parents do not want their children to be exposed to such "inappropriate lifestyle," but to each, his own. For example, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was banned from some school libraries because of the sexual content and offensive language used; Also parents objected to the book being a part of the curriculum for high school students. Even The Man without a Face by Isabelle Hallond was banned because it deals with homosexuality.

On the contrary, Booth (1992) argued that “parents have the right to challenge what we are doing in schools, to complain, to air their views; but what will we do when their actions encroach up the rights of other children to know and to read?” (p. 12). It is indeed an excellent question. Clearly, the rights to receive information by other students are infringed upon, due to the banning of a particular book deem offensive or inappropriate by a few parents, and in most cases just a single parent.   The first Amendment according to Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary (2011) is The amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of expression (including speech, press, assembly, association, and belief), and freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Hence, all American Citizens are entitled to utilize the first Amendment as their right.

Furthermore, Cornell University's Legal Information Institute (2010) stated that “despite, popular misunderstanding the right to freedom of the press guaranteed by the first amendment is not very different from the right to freedom of speech. It allows an individual to express themselves through publication and dissemination.  The Supreme Court has also recognized that the government may prohibit some speech that may cause a breach of the peace or cause violence.” Now it is quite evident that there are limitations to ones right to freedom of speech in the United States. This would apply to grievous or offensive sexual content or sexuality in books that may evoke anger within parents and disturb the peace within the schools. Eventually this may lead to the book being banned from the school curricula. Besides, to deny students literature or even plain information about sex goes against basic educational principles (Booth, 1992, p. 41)

Also, censorship of certain school texts infringes on teachers academic freedom to teach.  For instance, Algeo and Zirkel (1987) cited in Jongsma (1991) suggested that “ in past court cases in the United States, teacher brought suits against their school districts for depriving them of their right to academic freedom in their teaching. Teachers are then faced with the act of balancing their own academic freedom, the students’ and parents’ First Amendment rights, and the prerogative of the school board to make decisions concerning curriculum,” (p. 152). Therefore, in attempt to control censorship and its inequities in regards to individual freedom of rights, some schools have developed policies and procedures in case materials are challenged.

Interestingly, the culture of censorship in Jamaica, or in any other Caribbean county a matter a fact is not as prevalent, complex and controversial as in the United States of America. Perhaps, in Jamaica the political and educational system is not as liberal and accommodating of citizens constitutional rights as seen in the first world countries. After colonialism, Jamaica’s educational system was adopted from the British. Most of the country educational materials, such as, texts books and stationary are imported predominantly from the United Kingdom and the United States. Even their educational policies and procedures were informed from these countries.

Censorship in Jamaica is primarily practice at the government level.  The Ministry Of Education under the government of Jamaica routinely assess and regulates all books that go into private and public schools. As a democratic society, the opinions of citizens should be heard and parents should be included within this process. Hence, the authoritative manner in which the Ministry of Education stream school text before they enter the school system is deem as a form of despotism. In a recent interview, Mr. Thompson a Senior Executive Officer from the Evaluation and Utilization Department at the Ministry of Education which deals with School Texts stated that:

“Schools are free to list books, but the Ministry has its own official book list. The Ministry does not have much control over the types of books a school may recommend. However, the Ministry has the responsibility to ensure that information in school texts are assessed before they get into the schools. The Ministry has a textbooks reviewed instrument, a section which deals with profanity, immorality, and the rights of the child and anything that is offensive. The Ministry does not have a policy for texts books, but one is being developed. If parents finds a book offensive, we then pull the book from the curricula.”
(Retrieved from interview on July 8, 2011)

Clearly, without an official educational policy on censorship in school texts, customary censorship is widely practice in the education ministry. In other words, school texts are self-censored before they enter the school system. Moreover, when faced with challenges about texts, Jongsma (1991) suggested that one should anticipate concerns about texts by knowing your community and its standards. As you select materials for your classrooms and schools, whether for teacher-guided instruction, for independent reading, or for assessment, anticipate how students, parents and adults in your community will re-act to the language and the subject,” (p.  153). Hence, the government of Jamaica knowingly understands its people and their culture, prevents the inflow of possibly offensive materials.

Again, homosexual lifestyle is one is in which there are great opposition to, and in Jamaica there are no exceptions to such sexuality. “In Jamaica, the issue of homosexuality is one of the most sensitive moral issues being debated today. Homosexual people are sometimes feared, hated, and discriminated against,” (House, James, Keene, Mckoy & Peart, 2009, p. 52). Gays and lesbians who are legal citizens seem to have no right place in Jamaica.  The slight mention or detailed information in support of homosexuality in school texts are rejected by parents and other concerned members of the society. Regrettably, members of the governments and others in leadership positions in the Jamaican society take pride in Jamaica being know as a homophobic country and endorses intolerance towards homosexuals. This form of mentality helps to censor school materials across the country. For example, a Religious Education book (New Steps in Religious in Education for the Caribbean " was banned because of the manner in which it dealt with homosexuality: “Many people do find  it very difficult to accept that same-sex relationships are normal,” (Keene, 2003, p. 34).

According to Mr. Thompson, “the book was widely used in All-age and High Schools for grade 9 students. Parents had a problem with same-sex relationships being considered as normal. This was offensive. The book also contained an image (See Apendix.1) of two female embracing each other. The parents then decided that they don’t want their children to be exposed to such material which promotes homosexuality. Eventually, the Ministry of Education removed the book from the nine grade (9) curricula,” (Retrieved from interview on July 8 2011).  Similarly, Dyer and Maynord (2004) book was censored, because of supportive homosexual statements as shown below:

“When two woman or two men live together in a relationship as lesbians or gays, they may be considered as a family. They may adopt children or have them through artificial insemination,” (p. 4)

On the contrary, the freedom of expression and constitutional rights of other citizens are being breached by censorship. Based on chapter (III) of the Jamaica Constitution Order Council (1962),Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, and for the purposes of this section the said freedom includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, and freedom from interference with his correspondence and other means of communication.” Thus, all person including students, teachers, parents and authors should be entitled to equal rights under the constitution. However, this is not always the case. When it comes to the rights of a child a parent is given power under the law to speak and decide what is deem as appropriate and safe for children consumption and exposure. In that, under the Child Care and Protection Act (2004):

(3) This Act shall be interpreted and administered so that the best interests of the child is the paramount consideration and in accordance with the following principles -(a) children are entitled to be protected from abuse, neglect and harm or threat of harm;” (p .8).

 Thus, materials and texts within a school book that are considered harmful, parents or guardians are therefore bound by law to protect  their children from accessing such information. Likewise, if parents or teachers advocate for the censoring of homosexuality content or other sexual content within school books, “in the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality or public health” according to the Jamaica Constitution Order Council, 1962, it is highly possibly that such book will be banned by the school or education ministry in the interest of the parents. Unfortunately, the right of other students to received, the academic freedom of teachers to teach, and the freedom of press for authors are likely to be ignored. Thus when it comes to the school system, parents, teachers, school administrators and students, authors freedom of expression in regards to censorship of sexuality in school texts, the right of students and parents are more significant, and depend on their concerns about a particular school text, it may be endorsed or refuted.

Finally, the educational policies and practices endorse or refute censorship and freedom of expression
of sexuality as it relates to school texts. The Unites States of America and Jamaica explicitly differs due to their own unique culture, values and norms. In the United States being gay is not unlawful. Their law provides provisions that protect the right of homosexuals from discrimination or hate crime.  It’s a liberal society and supports equality for all. For instance, if a book mentions that same-sex relationships are deemed as normal or as a family, the resistance to such book would be little or non-existent, when compared to Jamaica. However, Booth (1992) suggested  that “together we must forge a curriculum that will allow children, freedom to think and freedom to challenge and make their own decision as lifelong learners,” (p. 12-13). Indeed, today’s children should not be grown in a hypothetical sterile bubble which simulate reality, so that they can be aware of their fundamental rights and freedom.

Furthermore, freedom of expression of sexuality in reference to schools texts are censored because, censors such as parents have the right to protect their children from materials deemed as offensive or inappropriate for their children  In regards to the author's  right to freedom of expression whether they are in the United states or Jamaica educational policies and then right of students will take precedence over the right of the author, unfortunately in most cases the right to receive information by others student are neglected or forgotten. 


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