In light of Hanover, Virginia, School District’s planned discussions to reform policies for teaching specific instructional materials, CBLDF has joined a coalition led by the National Coalition Against Censorship to caution school officials about the potential harm — and censorship — enacting such policies could cause.
CBLDF joins coalition efforts like these to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.
As a way to potentially reduce complaints from parents and the community, the Hanover School Board is considering instituting a policy that would require parental pre-approval for any “sensitive” materials that might potentially lead to concerns regarding their “appropriateness.” The call for policy revision is in response to the recent controversy surrounding the screening of Thomas L. Friedman Reporting: Searching for the Roots of 9/11 in one of the district’s classrooms, which resulted in complaints from some parents, who felt the film propagated anti-American sentiments and sympathized with terrorists. Although the film was not banned from the curriculum, it did open up further conversations about what steps the district could proactively take to prevent similar controversy from occurring again. The resulting proposed policy would require parental permission for any materials that cover sensitive matters, and for those students whose parents opt out of an assignment to be given alternative projects.
Although the district means well, the problem with enacting such a policy is the loose definitions of “appropriate” or “sensitive,” which can open the door to censorship and regulation instead of promoting open discussion and critical debate amongst students and their peers — a fundamental core of any academic establishment. Instead of inspiring discussion, such a policy would propagate counterproductive approaches to particular materials and, in effect, would handicap both teachers’ instructional capabilities and students’ educations.
In the letter addressed to the Hanover School District, NCAC and CBLDF are joined by the American Booksellers for Free Expression, PEN American Center, and the National Council of Teachers of English in pointing out the potential harm the new policy could cause. As Joan Bertin, NCAC Executive Director, indicates:
Labeling sensitive materials — and opening up the possibility for endless alternative assignments — is a prescription for educational chaos that will stigmatize and deter the teaching of valuable works, invite ongoing controversy, and ultimately undermine the quality of education students receive.
The Hanover School Board will meet tonight to discuss the policy. Read NCAC’s letter in its entirety below.