Teachers of English language arts must make daily decisions about materials and methods of instruction, choosing from increasingly broad and varied alternatives in order to serve students who are themselves increasingly diverse, both linguistically and culturally. Guidelines help teachers of English language arts to make those decisions. NCTE advocatees and supports guidelines that help teachers avoid censorship. NCTE opposes censorship wherever it appears.
Distinctions between Censorship and Professional Guidelines
Censorship and guidelines sometimes appear similar because both involve selection from myriad alternatives. However, censorship and professional guidelines may be distinguished one from the other. Whereas the goal of censorship is to remove, eliminate or bar particular materials and methods, the goal of professional guidelines is to provide criteria for selection of materials and methods.
Censorship Distinguished from Professional Guidelines: Examples
Examples of Censorship
- Exclude Specific Materials or Methods
Example: Eliminate books with unhappy endings.
Example: Review your classroom library and eliminate books that include stereotypes.
Example: Do not accept policeman. Insist that students say and write police officer.
- Seek to Indoctrinate, to Limit Access to Ideas and Information
Example: Drug abuse is a menace to students. Eliminate all books that portray drug abuse.
- Look at Parts of a Work in Isolation
Example: Remove this book. The language includes profanity.
Examples of Professional Guidelines
- Include Specific Materials or Methods
Example: Include some books with unhappy endings to give a varied view of life.
- Are Essentially Affirmative
Example: Review your classroom library. If necessary, add books that portray groups in nonstereotypical ways.
Example: Encourage such nonlimiting alternatives for policeman as police officer, officer of the law, or law enforcer.
- Seek to Educate, to Increase Access to Ideas and Information
Example: Include at appropriate grade levels books that will help students understand the personal and social consequences of drug abuse.
- See the Relationship of Parts to Each Other and to a Work as a Whole
Example: Determine whether the profanity is integral to portrayal of character and development of theme in the book.
Practical Suggestions for Writing Professional Guidelines
Although the primary concern here is the distinction between censorial and advisory statements, other matters must be considered in the actional writing of guidelines. Writers need to:
- Respect the role of the English language arts teacher as a professional with broad knowledge of language, literature, and cultural traditions.
- Identify clearly the events and concerns that led to development of the particular set of guidelines.
This information might help the English language arts teacher in one school setting (rural, independent, suburban, or urban) to understand the usefulness of guidelines developed elsewhere.
- Specify the professional objectives the guidelines are expected to reach.
Guidelines are less likely to have censorial effects if their content is closely linked to the purposes of English language arts instruction, to the function and philosophy of the school, to the particular student population, and to the aims of the curriculum as a whole.
- Write in plain English, providing clear, current definitions of professional terms as needed.
- Respect the concerns and convictions of both external critics and professional colleagues who have opposing ideas about either principles or practices.
Guidelines are abstractions, and honest differences of opinion will exist about translating abstractions into concrete teaching and selection of materials.
- Build in procedures for review and revision.
Guidelines should make clear the date of adoption and the sponsoring group(s) and should provide for periodic review and revision. The teaching community is committed to continued research and study and to the dissemination of insights that prove to be valid and useful.
—Approved by the NCTE Board of Directors, 1982.
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.