Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Censorship or Audience Appropriateness?

My school has its second biannual Author Illustrator Competition coming up, and I'm on the committee. (I'm the only person on the committee who doesn't teach English, so I don't actually work with my classes on their stories, which makes things interesting.)

During a recent committee meeting, the issue of censorship came up, so you know that was more interesting than deciding who would go to the hobby store to get materials and who would make the certificates.

First, two things to understand. (1) Part of the plan for the event is that the books the students have made will be on display on tables in a hallway leading to the guest speaker presentation. (2) Our school is pre-K through 12th grade, with children ranging from 2 to 22.

One member of the committee noted that she has a student who's writing a story that's, well, more PG-13 than G. (Knowing the student, it may cross more to R, but I haven't actually seen it yet.) So we had a discussion about whether this would be permitted in the competition.

Without getting into details, some said it was not appropriate, and the story should be revised for the wide-ranging audience. The teacher said she would not support censorship of any kind.

I got stuck thinking about it. Is this censorship? Or is it acknowledging what is and isn't appropriate for a specific audience? If it is censorship, then is all censorship automatically a bad thing, or does some of it fall under the umbrella of respecting the rights of others not to be subjected to certain material?

You might show Schindler's List to a high school class learning about the Holocaust. You would not show the movie at a school-wide assembly on the Holocaust (at a K-12 school like ours).

We recently had an ASL poetry/storytelling event. If I were doing poetry in a high school class, I could see allowing certain language (dropping F-bombs, for instance) if the student felt it belonged in the poem. At a school-wide event, however, this would not be appropriate.

Is it censorship? Is it something else? Where's the line, and how do we help kids differentiate? I'd really like to hear some thoughts on this, because my mind keeps going in circles.


Mockingbird said...

Realistically, things that cross into R territory are in the adult realm. The competition is taking place in a school. It isn't censorship to request that entries meet a certain level of child-safe criteria.

Mindy McGinnis said...

And that's a great question. I think a lot of people gasp at the word "censorship," and the other "c" word (common sense) gets lost in the hullabaloo.

R.C. Lewis said...

Mockingbird, excellent point. The setting is key.

Mindy, too true. It does seem anytime there's a threat to put a restriction on self-expression, someone screams, "Censorship!" when really we need to consider individual circumstances.

cherie said...

Not censorship, just appropriateness. :D