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NCTE Guideline

Guidelines for Dealing with Censorship of Nonprint and Multimedia Materials - Previous Revision

by the NCTE Standing Committee Against Censorship (revised October 2004)

Introduction

Democratic government depends on an educated citizenry, on a population capable of thinking independently and critically about complex matters of public policy. Preparing students to become active and engaged citizens has always been the central function of public education in the United States. Every student consequently has a right to a free, appropriate, and meaningful education, an education that provides access to the most current research, to the latest thinking, and to the newest technology available. As an advocate for student and teacher rights, the National Council of Teachers of English has formulated the following guidelines to see that students receive the education to which they are entitled.

Today, nonprint and multimedia sources have joined books, newspapers, journals, and magazines as primary means through which knowledge and culture are transmitted. Music, visual images, and text -- whether conveyed in live performances or theatres or distributed electronically on television, radio, the Internet, or prerecorded disks and tapes -- shape student attitudes, values, and opinions. The Internet, in particular, is an invaluable multimedia educational tool offering expert opinion; worldwide access to museums, libraries, schools and other cultures; and exposure to new knowledge, resources, and learning opportunities that students might not otherwise have access to. Students have been quick to avail themselves of these materials. When assigned tasks requiring research, many students now turn directly to Internet resources for information, some of it reliable and authoritative, some of it not. Telling the difference, as has always been the case, even with printed materials, is the hard part. Electronic culture clearly challenges students’ and teachers’ abilities to think critically about the wide variety of material available to them. They need both to refine those skills traditionally associated with reading and writing and to acquire new modes of literacy and new ways of thinking, not only about words but about visual images and music and the ways information is constructed and organized in hypertext environments.

To this end, NCTE strongly advocates that media literacy, in company with more traditional tools of information literacy, be a central element in all students' education. English language arts teachers must instruct students in the necessary skills, knowledge, and attitudes media literacy depends on, teaching students how to effectively and safely use tools like the Internet for learning and entertainment. Clearly, the unregulated and unedited nature of materials available on the Internet poses real challenges for classroom instruction. Such instruction may require teachers to introduce potentially controversial materials into classroom discussion. Nevertheless, if students are to become informed consumers of information, they must learn to recognize propaganda, stereotyping, misinformation, and disinformation wherever they occur. Consequently, educators must ensure that nonprint and multimedia resources are available for classroom study and discussion and that these materials are equally accessible to students of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Unfortunately, the classroom study of nonprint and multimedia materials is often jeopardized by direct and indirect censorship. Direct censorship occurs when principals and school boards restrict the materials a teacher can and cannot use in the classroom, for instance, when teachers are told not to show films the Motion Picture Association of America has rated “R.” In fact, the courts have ruled that such ratings are not relevant to instructional purposes. The use of software filters on school and library computers to block student access to potentially offensive materials on the Internet, as required by the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA), also represents an instance of direct censorship. While the Supreme Court has ruled that Congress is within its rights to mandate the use of filters as a condition of funding, research indicates that such devices often block access to “protected” and potentially valuable sites, are largely ineffective at protecting users from objectionable materials, and can be easily circumvented. Materials can only be judged appropriate or inappropriate on a case-by-case basis; the pattern-match mechanics of software filters and the general prohibition of R-rated films shortcut review and approval processes.

Indirect censorship, in contrast to direct censorship, may be even more insidious. Indirect censorship occurs when teachers, in an attempt to avoid controversy, self-censor their classrooms, limiting their students’ education, for instance, by restricting the focus of instruction to print materials. Such practices ignore the cultural influence and artistic contributions of nonprint and multimedia works. Indirect censorship, like direct censorship, deprives students of the learning opportunities they need to become fully literate, astute consumers of print, nonprint, and multimedia materials.

Two points seem clear: (1) The English language arts classroom, in order to prepare an educated and effective citizenry, must instruct students in the responsible, intelligent, and critically-astute use of print and nonprint resources; (2) Decisions as to the aesthetic and pedagogical value and developmental appropriateness of instructional materials must be entrusted to teachers and librarians, working in concert with school administrators, school boards, and parents. Internet research makes a wide variety of resources, both print and nonprint, available to students. It also offers ready-made term papers, music file sharing, pornographic Web sites, and chat rooms that cater to pedophiles. Academic integrity, legal responsibilities, especially with regard to copyright laws, and personal safety must become part of the instruction, just as students must learn to recognize propaganda, stereotyping, misinformation, and disinformation wherever they appear if they are to become informed and responsible consumers of information. Education, not censorship and denial, must always be the answer.

In order to accomplish this task, school administrators and school boards, working with classroom teachers, librarians, and parents, need to formulate curriculum standards focusing on media literacy and to design due-process procedures for the review and approval of instructional materials. In all cases, the primary concerns must be with designing instructional methods and materials that work, with protecting instructors’ academic freedom, and with protecting students’ First Amendment rights -- that is, with fostering student growth and understanding and with protecting intellectual freedom in our schools. The materials included in this brochure -- the principles, guidelines, and selected resources -- are all designed to help teachers, parents, and school administrators to realize these twin aims.

Principles

  1. The students’ “right to know” includes all forms of communication: print, nonprint, and multimedia genres.
  2. First Amendment rights to free speech and expression protect students’ rights to access, study, discuss, and produce nonprint and multimedia works.
  3. Education at all levels must reflect the diversity and debate inherent in a democratic society. Well-schooled citizens -- citizens prepared to confront choice, to raise questions, to consider contingencies -- must develop the skills and attitudes critical analysis depends on. This kind of education must begin early. Classroom instruction, therefore, needs to include a variety of print, nonprint, and multimedia materials so that students will have access to the issues, ideas, and information, as well as the multiple forms of expression, that public discourse depends on.
  4. The ability to consider contingencies, to imagine alternative constructions, to think critically depends in important ways on a healthy and active imagination. Cultivating (and celebrating) the imagination has always been a central function of the English language arts classroom. Just as traditional print media -- poetry, fiction, drama, and the essay -- fire the imagination, so can the media arts inspire and enlarge students’ ways of perceiving and being in the world.
  5. In order to succeed in a global society, students need to understand cultures beyond their own. Nonprint and multimedia materials can expand students’ access to a variety of cultural products and perspectives. Students must develop a respect for other cultures and the ability to analyze the ways the mainstream media shape their perceptions of those other cultures.
  6. Language is the means by which teachers and students construct, examine, and evaluate print and nonprint texts for practical, intellectual, and aesthetic purposes. Therefore, the English language arts classroom is an appropriate setting for the technical, aesthetic, and intellectual study of nonprint media and multimedia works.
  7. Selection of nonprint and multimedia materials for study in schools should be the province of teachers and librarians; the selection should be based on sound educational criteria outlined in the school’s mission statement and curriculum.
  8. The rating systems developed and employed in the music, motion picture, and television industries (e.g., the Recording Industry Association of America’s “Parental Advisory” labels; the Motion Picture Association of America’s G, PG, PG-13, R, X ratings) should not be the primary guide for determining the suitability of materials to be used in classroom instruction. Such ratings are made without regard for artistic and educational value.
  9. Intellectual freedom and development require that students learn to dispute civilly. The teacher’s role in the discussion of nonprint and multimedia materials is one of mediating between and among conflicting viewpoints and perceptions. The discussion of controversial topics or works does not imply endorsement or approval of the views or values suggested by those works or expressed by students in discussion of those works.
  10. People interact with the world in complex ways, in ways that use all of their senses. Consequently, good teachers will use print, nonprint, and multimedia forms to convey information in a variety of ways.
  11. Students’ prior experiences shape their perception of texts, regardless of the medium they are presented in. As with printed texts, teachers need to devote class time to exploring the various ways students respond to nonprint and multimedia works, discussing the degree to which responses are culturally constructed and the ways responses reflect individual interactions with the world.
  12. Just as removing potentially offensive materials -- words, phrases, incidents -- from printed works can substantially alter the meaning and impact of the original, the “editing” of multimedia works can prove equally problematic. To protect both the integrity of the work and students’ First Amendment rights, artistic nonprint and multimedia works should be offered whole and uncut to students whenever possible, that is, as their creators intended them to be experienced.
  13. The responsibility for media arts literacy does not rest with the individual teacher alone. If students are to be taught to respond intelligently to the nonprint media and multimedia, schools and communities must commit a significant share of their resources to this goal.

Guidelines for Dealing with Censorship of Nonprint and Multimedia Materials in the Schools

Based on the principles outlined above, schools wishing to foster intellectual freedom should help create an environment in which teachers are encouraged to the teach critical analysis and aesthetic appreciation of nonprint media and multimedia. They should:

  1. Include media literacy as an object of study at all levels. Students must be taught how to access, analyze, and evaluate the powerful images, words, and sounds that compose contemporary culture.
  2. Create, publish, and implement policies for selection of nonprint and multimedia materials. Policies governing the use of nonprint materials must be consistent with those governing the review and adoption of print materials, including “due process” provisions when materials are challenged.
  3. Invite parents and community members to participate in intellectual freedom committees and study groups to support the selection by education professionals of appropriate nonprint and multimedia materials for use in the school.
  4. Endorse and implement the American Library Association’s position statements, including their recommendations regarding children’s access to nonprint and multimedia works as suggested in The ALA Bill of Rights (http://www.ala.org/work/freedom/lbr.html), and in ALA’s Access to Electronic Information Services and Network (http://www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/electacc.html). Schools should similarly endorse the American Film and Video Association’s Freedom to View statement.
  5. Provide information about teaching nonprint materials through inservice training, through ongoing networking groups, and in library/media center resources. Specifically, the school should provide teachers with intellectual freedom guidelines, orientation to new electronic media, time to prepare electronic classroom presentations, ways to locate developmentally appropriate nonprint and multimedia materials, critical reviews of nonprint and multimedia works, articles and books on teaching nonprint and multimedia materials, and interpretations of copyright law as it affects the use of nonprint and multimedia materials, especially videotapes of televised broadcasts.
  6. Encourage teachers to make full use of nonprint and multimedia materials in accordance with copyright laws rather than assuming that the laws are excessively inhibiting.
  7. Provide for flexible scheduling so that students may view films, plays, television shows, art exhibits, musical performances, and other multimedia performances in the time frames in which they were designed to be viewed. Scheduling should allot time for teacher-led reflection and discussion of the work.
  8. Minimize the time and paperwork involved in ordering nonprint and multimedia materials and the equipment required to present it.
  9. Budget sufficiently for ready access to nonprint and multimedia materials and related equipment.
  10. Provide opportunities and facilities for teachers and students to view/listen to nonprint and multimedia materials in their free periods.
  11. Assist in negotiations with commercial interests to reduce fees for educational uses of nonprint and multimedia materials.
  12. Examine all works -- especially those offered free or inexpensively or through corporate sponsors -- for inherent biases, remembering that the function as English language arts teachers is to educate, not indoctrinate students.

Responsibilities of Teachers in Dealing with Nonprint and Multimedia Materials

In order to prepare for teaching with and about nonprint media and multimedia, teachers should:

  1. Be aware of the values of their immediate communities and cultures and know the nonprint media and multimedia the students regularly view.
  2. Work with school media resource centers to select developmentally appropriate nonprint and multimedia materials for the curriculum from a wide variety of outlets and viewpoints to encourage students’ intellectual and aesthetic development.
  3. Preview nonprint and multimedia materials and prepare rationales for their use; specify in curriculum guides and course syllabi provided to students and parents how nonprint media and multimedia will be used for instructional purposes; and provide alternative nonprint and multimedia works where academically feasible and relevant.
  4. Include sufficient introductory preparation in classes dealing with material for which controversy might be expected, provide careful explanation of the overriding educational purpose; schedule time for substantial follow-up activity for students to discuss and clarify their initial responses to a media work in relation to the curricular focus; and promote inquiry-based classroom strategies.
  5. Help students to understand the interrelationship of nonprint, print, and multimedia materials, and to study the linguistic features of each.
  6. Develop techniques of leading discussion and debate, and resolving conflict in the classroom.
  7. Provide a cultural, historical, economic, and social context for nonprint media and multimedia materials whenever possible.
  8. Follow copyright law as it applies to nonprint media and multimedia and current fair-use laws of broadcast programming for educational purposes.
  9. Learn to engage students in producing nonprint and multimedia materials and how to protect their rights to free expression within schools.
  10. Learn to assess and help students to assess the rhetorical features and artistic qualities of student and professional nonprint and multimedia productions.
  11. Learn how to assess students’ comprehension of and response to nonprint media and multimedia in a variety of ways.
  12. Examine sponsored, free, and inexpensive nonprint and multimedia materials for biases and propaganda.

Suggestions for Responsible Use of the Internet

Student use of the Internet poses particular challenges for teachers, librarians, and school administrators. On the one hand, schools are not responsible for the vast array of materials on the Internet, some appropriate for student use, some clearly inappropriate. On the other hand, educators and parents are responsible for monitoring student use of the Internet to ensure the students' safety. In order to protect students and ensure legal and ethical use of the Internet, and to protect teacher and student First Amendment rights, schools should:

  1. Provide written “acceptable-use policies.”
  2. Arrange computers and school staff in ways that allow school personnel to supervise student use of the Internet to comply with the CIPA (Child Internet Protection Act). To qualify for federal funds, schools and libraries must use technology to block or filter Internet use by children under seventeen. However, Internet filters or blocks must be removed, if requested, by a user seventeen and older.
  3. Require that parents sign permission forms allowing their children to use the Internet, to maintain an e-mail account, and to enter chat rooms. Parents have a right to determine what kinds of materials and activities are acceptable for their children but have no right to dictate what other people’s children can and cannot do.
  4. Require students to sign written contracts co-signed by their parents or legal guardians -- an “honor code” -- defining appropriate use of the Internet and specifying the penalties involved for violating this agreement. Typical concerns may include any of the following: intentionally accessing pornography, violating copyright laws, plagiarism, engaging in illegal activities, playing games, advertising products, using profanity, participating in hate sites and/or sending threatening messages, sending and/or preparing chain letters, and engaging in other specified inappropriate behaviors. Appropriate penalties may include temporary suspension and/or revocation of Internet privileges, parental notification, and possible legal and financial liabilities.
  5. Inform users that e-mail and other Internet activity will be vigilantly monitored for their safety.
  6. Educate students about the potential dangers the Internet poses and instruct them how to respond. Children need to be warned not to give out personal information on the Internet.

Students have rights, rights which must be respected. As the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), “First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.” Changes in the ways information is disseminated create new opportunities and challenges for students and teachers, but they do not alter the basic rights extended to all citizens. No one, perhaps, should assume that e-mail correspondence is perfectly private or secure from administrative oversight. Students’ rights, as well as the rights of all citizens -- with regard to issues of privacy and the ownership of intellectual property, among others -- need to be respected.

Resources

Print Resources

Booklist. American Library Association, 1905-present. Biweekly review journal, includes assessment of age appropriateness of new print and nonprint materials, including video and computer software.

Brown, Jean. (Ed.). (1994). Preserving Intellectual Freedom: Fighting Censorship in Our Schools. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Chomsky, Noam. (1989). Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies. Boston, MA: South End Press.

Constanzo, William. (1992). Reading the Movies: Twelve Great Films on Video and How to Teach Them. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Davis, James. (Ed.). (1979). Dealing with Intellectual Freedom. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Foerstal, Herbert N. (1998). Banned in the Media: A Reference Guide to Censorship in the Press, Motion Pictures, Broadcasting and the Internet. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Golden, John. (2001). Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Gruber, Sybille. (2000). Weaving a Virtual Web: Practical Approaches to New Information Technologies. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Heins, Majorie and Cho, Christina. (2002). Media Literacy: An Alternative to Censorship. Free Expression Policy Proposal. New York: National Coalition Against Censorship.(http://www.fepproject.org/policyreports/medialiteracyfull.html)

The Intellectual Freedom Manual. 6th ed. (2001). Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Multi-media: Its Promise and Challenge for Pubic Education. (1994). West Haven: National Education Association, Research Division.

National Council of Teachers of English. (1982). "The Students’ Right to Read." Urbana, IL: NCTE.

National Council of Teachers of English. (1982). "The Students’ Right to Know." Urbana, IL: NCTE.

National Council of Teachers of English and International Reading Association. (1992) "Common Ground: Speak with One Voice on Intellectual Freedom and the Defense of It." Prepared by the NCTE/IRA Joint Task Force on Intellectual Freedom. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

National School Board Association. (1989). Censorship: Managing the Controversy. Alexandria, VA: NSBA.

Powers, Ron. (1990). The Beast, the Eunuch, and the Glass-Eyed Child: Television in the ‘80’s. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Sacco, Margaret. (2002, April). "What Educators Can Do to Enable Students to Have Greater Access to the Internet." SLATE (Support for the Learning and Teaching of English) Newsletter, 27 (3), p. 5.

Simmons, John. (2001). School Censorship in the 21st Century: A Guide for Teachers and School Library Media Specialists. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

United States v. American Library Association, 123 S.Ct. 2296 (2003).

West, Mark. (1997). Trust Your Children: Voices Against Censorship in Children’s Literature. 2nd Ed. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Nonprint and Multimedia Resources

"The Boundaries of Free Speech: How Free Is Too Free." (1996). [videorecording] (produced by Patty Satalia). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing. Discusses the issues of free speech and whether or not there should be limits.

"Dangerous' Songs: Censors, Rock and the First Amendment." (1991). [videotape]. 18 minutes. Social Studies School Service (800-421-4246). Explores lyrics deemed racist, sexist, and obscene and their protection by the First Amendment; includes interviews of songwriters, parents, and teens.

Express Yourself. [computer software]. Interactive software program that utilizes video, animation, graphics, and text to teach students their First Amendment rights. (Download from ACLU at http://www.aclu.org).

Organizations

A number of organizations provide information about media literacy, censorship, and teaching nonprint and multimedia materials. Teachers should examine the following web sites to locate reports, news, and multimedia resources concerning intellectual freedom:

Each state’s Department of Public Instruction’s English Language Arts and School Library Media Offices can provide policy statements and other resources for teachers of media arts.

National Council of Teachers of English, 1111 W. Kenyon Rd., Urbana, IL 61801-1096. (800-369-6283); http://www.ncte.org. The Council provides immediate assistance to teachers in censorship cases and offers local consultants through its network of affiliates. The NCTE Commission on Media promotes media literacy.

People for the American Way, 2000 M. St. NW, Washington, DC 20036.(202-476-4999); http://www.pfaw.org.

American Library Association, Office of Intellectual Freedom, 50 E. Huron St., Chicago, IL 60611. (800-545-2433); http://www.ala.org./alaorg/oif/.

Center for Democracy and Technology, 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20006. (202-637-9800); http://www.cdt.org.

National Coalition Against Censorship, 275 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10001. (212-807-6222); http://www.ncac.org.

Center for Media Literacy (formerly Center for Media and Values), 3101 Ocean Park Blvd., Suite 200, Santa Monica, CA 90405. (310-581-0260); http://www.medialit.org. CML publishes Media and Values.

National Telemedia Council. http://www.nationaltelemediacouncil.org. The NTC publishes Telemedium: The Journal of Media Literacy.

Media Education Foundation. http://www.mediaed.org.

Citizens for Media Literacy, 34 Wall St., Suite 407, Ashville, NC. 28801. http://www.main.nc.us/cml. CML publishes The New Citizen.

Project Look Sharp, 1119 Williams Hall, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY 14850-7390. (607-274-3471); http://www.ithaca.edu/looksharp. Look Smart publishes Project Look Sharp Newsletter.

Media Literacy Review. http://interact.uoregon.edu/MediaLit/mlr/home/.

New Mexico Media Literacy Project, 4060 Wyoming Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109. (505-828-3129); http://www.nmmlp.org. NMMLP publishes The State of Media Education.

Just Think Foundation, 39 Mesa St., Suite 106, Presidio Park, San Francisco, CA 94129. (415-561-2900); http://www.justthink.org.

Media Literacy Project, 6 Annenberg Hall, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122; http://www.reneehobbs.org. Hobbs created Assignment: Media Literacy, a comprehensive K-12 curriculum guide adopted by the Maryland State Department of Education.

Center for Media Studies, SCILS, Rutgers University, 4 Huntington St., New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1071. (732-932-7500, ext. 8017); http://www.mediastudies.rutgers.edu/cmsyme.html. CMS hosts the New Jersey Media Literacy Project.

Media Literacy Clearinghouse. http://medialit.med.sc.edu/

Media Channel. http://www.mediachannel.org.

Alliance for a Media Literate America, 721 Glencoe St., Denver, C0 80220. (888-775-2652); http://www.amlainfo.org.

Action Coalition for Media Education, 4060 Wyoming Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109. (505-828-3377); http://www.acmecoalition.org.

Media Coalition, 139 Fulton St., Suite 302, New York, NY 10038. (212-587-4025); http://www.mediacoalition.org.

Library Searching

Larger libraries and some Internet vendors will have Media Review Digest (Pieran Press, 1973/74-present), “the most comprehensive guide to reviews of educational nonprint media.” Additionally, current articles and documents on media censorship and related topics can be found in Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, Infotrac, Education Index, ERIC (RIE and CIJE), and Humanities Index. Articles on censorship of nonprint and multimedia resources can be accessed through subject headings and descriptors singly or in combination, for example: censorship, intellectual freedom, academic freedom, freedom of information, mass media censorship, videotape recordings-intellectual freedom, films-censorship, Internet-censorship, computer software reviews. A library media specialist can provide assistance. The Librarian’s Index to the Internet (http://www.lii.org) identifies many excellent Web sites that contain information on censorship.

NCTE Standing Committee Against Censorship
Chair: Marlene Birkman
Members: Robert Crafton, Elissa Kido, Margaret Sacco, and John Stewig

This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminatedwithout permission from NCTE.

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