A moment of triumph this week for advocates of free speech and access to information has come in the form of the Gilbert Arizona school board opting to halt all actions to edit an honors biology textbook!
In light of complaints from community members regarding two pages of the popular textbook, Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections 7th Edition, the governing board initiated preliminary steps to have the offending pages redacted from the book. Their reasoning behind the blatant act of censorship was that the two pages which covered the topics of birth control, contraception, and abortion were in direct violation of Arizona state law. The law in question was 15-115: Preference for childbirth and adoption; allowable presentation:
In view of the state’s strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion, no school district or charter school in this state may allow any presentation during instructional time or furnish any materials to pupils as part of any instruction that does not give preference, encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.
In late October, the Gilbert school board determined with a 3:2 vote that the pages were in violation of the law and discussions for how to edit the book were scheduled to commence.
With time, proper legal consultation, and pressure from advocacy groups like Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom, the Arizona Department of Education, and Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, though, the board came to the decision this week to stop all actions to edit the textbook. On top of having to face the legal ramifications for altering the copyrighted text, superintendent Christina Kishimoto also expressed concerns that “a redaction effort would involve thousands of books and a special process that could involve hiring teachers to work over the summer.”
An alternative method to the previously entertained act of overt censorship being proposed is that teachers supply supplementary materials presenting other options like adoption to be taught alongside the textbook. Arguably a more effective teaching method, this will not only allow students access to information that very much effects their lives, but it also gives teachers the opportunity to have a more comprehensive discussion of the lecture material — something that one might argue was the true intent behind the law in the first place.
As Chris Kotterman, an education department deputy associate superintendent for policy development and government relation, comments, “In general, the mere mention of a means of medically inducing abortion does not automatically signal a lack of preference for childbirth and adoption… the responsibility lies with the teacher to provide context for the student.”
Similarly, in light of the recent events and discussions superintendent Kishimoto has also expressed that “students should learn about the preference for childbirth and adoption over elective abortion from a teacher-taught lesson, and not from the redaction of the textbook.” By redacting the information, Kishimoto argues that students will be “encourage[d] to seek the information elsewhere without the benefit of a unit of study designed by a teacher.”
Although the governing board cites legal reasons for not following through with their initial decision, without a doubt the continued urging and discussions initiated by free speech advocacy groups also played a significant part in ensuring that this gross violation of the students’ constitutional rights was not carried out. With the persistent efforts of groups like these (and CBDLF!), we are continuing to make headway in curbing the trigger response to simply censor and ban topics that upset us.
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!