ERIC Identifier: ED347479
Publication Date: 1992-12-00
Author: Peterson, Marla - Poppen, William
Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Challenges to and Censorship of School Guidance Materials. ERIC
Textbook controversies are not new. Throughout the history of public
education in the United States there have been well-intentioned groups that
thought they had detected a conspiracy to subvert the nation's children.
However, specific challenges to school guidance materials are rather recent
phenomena--occurring primarily after 1960. This can partly be attributed to the
fact that many schools simply had no counselors prior to that time. However,
developmental guidance materials have been discovered and they are being
A challenge should not be equated with censorship. Some parents, for personal
reasons, may request a school to provide alternative guidance materials or to
have their children excused from certain guidance activities. Many schools will
accommodate these requests. Censorship, however, is a main tactic of some
national organizations that want to change the way schools select and use
educational materials. Censorship, as defined by the American Library
Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee, is the removal of material from
open access by government authority (American Library Association, 1988).
Censors try to impose their views by deciding what others should not read, see,
Special interests groups are trying to force many school systems to remove or
alter developmental guidance materials and practices. The freedom of these
groups to speak and write is guaranteed by the First Amendment; however, some of
these groups are unwilling to grant such freedom to those who hold opposing
views. Special interests groups are an essential ingredient in a democracy and
contribute to the formation of public policy, but they can also be a negative
and restrictive force.
Few challenges by special interests groups reach the courts, but
self-censorship happens. A group makes itself known and a counselor silently
retreats from the use of established materials and practices. The special
interests group goes away and so do some developmentally-appropriate guidance
WHAT DEVELOPMENTAL GUIDANCE MATERIALS HAVE BEEN CHALLENGED?
Each year, People for the American Way, an
organization that is opposed to censorship, compiles a list of challenges to
school textbooks and materials. This annual compilation includes attempts to
remove guidance materials, library books, textbooks, films, and other
instructional materials. A review of the four most recent annual reports
indicates that a wide array of guidance materials have been challenged in
various school districts throughout the United States. It is important to note
that in the vast majority of cases where challenges have occurred, school boards
have elected to retain and use the challenged materials.
REASONS FOR CHALLENGING DEVELOPMENTAL GUIDANCE MATERIALS
analysis of 53 recent challenges which occurred in 1988-1991 reveals that the
following reasons were those most frequently cited by challengers:
Age" concerns--hypnotism, self-hypnosis, meditation, Far East religions, guided
parental authority/family values and teaching children they can handle problems
on their own
Other reasons, "having teachers and untrained persons act as therapists,"
"having children harmed in some way because of exposure to certain material or
practice," and "using materials unproven by research" seem to be emerging as
three that challengers are citing more frequently.
WHAT ARE THE PIVOTAL ISSUES?
The challengers have the right
to challenge. If that opportunity does not exist, there is little reason for the
First Amendment to exist. When public schools are involved, however, a number of
pivotal issues become apparent. Items deemed by the state to be in the best
interest of all students are not always acceptable to certain parents and
special interests groups. Even after thorough adherence to materials selection
policies, a school district that adopts a set of materials for counselors to use
in helping build self-esteem may find itself the subject of charges by selected
parents and, in some cases, well-financed special interests groups. How can the
rights of the many be protected and the rights of the minority be accommodated?
Parental and community involvement should be encouraged. At issue, here, is
the notion that a small, vocal minority, often well-organized and well-financed
by legal defense funds, can make it appear as though it represents the community
as a whole. Group guidance and health education activities related to sex
education and AIDS education have been opposed in certain communities. In some
cases a small group of parents has requested the removal of a state- or
locally-developed sex-education curriculum and requested that one which meets
their criteria be substituted for the "offending" curriculum. Should materials
that have been selected on the basis of carefully-designed procedures and
policies be altered, removed, or replaced when opposition by a few emerges?
Not only has the use of certain developmental guidance materials been
challenged, but the freedom to counsel in both individual and group settings has
been questioned on occasion. Sometimes it is the use of materials which has
caused certain groups to call for the removal of school counselors. During the
1989-90 school year the Armstrong County Taxpayers League of Armstrong,
Pennsylvania objected to some developmental guidance materials (People for the
American Way, 1990). In addition to requesting the removal of guidance
materials, the League campaigned to remove all guidance counselors.
Counselors must assess whether they are functioning in an environment where
the school board has a commitment to free expression or whether it is a board
which placates a vocal minority. In some cases, counselors may find themselves
working with board members who have been elected with the support of special
interests groups whose agendas include forcing their viewpoint on materials
selection and curriculum practices. To what extent are counselors free to use
certain materials that support the goals of the school without fear of
retribution and, at the same time, to what extent do counselors have support for
designing alternative programs to meet unique student and parental needs?
Counselors have sought ways to encourage students to sort out their own
values. However, such activities become troublesome to certain parents who
confuse values education with morality education. Many school personnel choose
to avoid private morality topics, which they believe are better left to the home
Some parents believe that religious beliefs and private morality issues
should have a place in the school curriculum. The stated goal of several special
interests groups is to bring public education under the control of Christians.
The absence of references to religion by guidance materials and textbooks
authors, counselors, and teachers have brought accusations that the schools are
in fact practicing religion--the religion of secular humanism. To what extent
should private morality be addressed in the nation's public schools?
The pivotal issues surrounding challenges to school guidance materials and
programs can be further reduced to two very important questions that must be
addressed if schools are to deal effectively with challenges to developmental
guidance materials: (1) Who determines what school guidance materials are used
in public schools? and (2) Is the role of schools seen primarily as a place
where diverse ideas should be presented and explored or is the role of schools
to be primarily that of transmitting community values?
RESPONSIBLE ACTIONS BY RESPONSIBLE COUNSELORS BEFORE A CHALLENGE OCCURS
Peterson and Poppen (1992) have developed a
16-item "Actions to Prevent Problems Checklist" which outlines steps that school
districts and counselors can take to prevent the likelihood that challenges will
result in censorship. The 16 actions are not arranged in order of importance,
but four may be of high priority for many counselors:
developmental guidance programing on sound educational practices which are
appropriate for the age and maturity level of students.
developmental guidance goals and activities to district and state educational
goals and to student educational needs.
the Board of Education to act on materials selection and materials
reconsideration policies and procedures.
"The School Counselor and Censorship," the position statement of the American
School Counselor Association.
AFTER A CHALLENGE OCCURS
If challenges happen, responsible
actions are needed by school counselors:
carefully to those who express special concerns.
debate, but do state the basis for current practices.
complaints with carefully constructed procedures and accurate records of all
contact and actions.
the focus of the complaint on the material rather than on the program.
for assistance from other district personnel, publishers (several publishers of
"challenged" guidance materials have excellent printed materials for use in
"challenge" situations), and professional associations.
Rights of the many must be protected and rights
of the minority must be accommodated. To achieve this end, school counselors
must know why challenges to school guidance materials are occurring and the
pivotal issues which accompany these challenges. Counselors must assure that
developmental guidance programs are based on sound educational practices and
that responsible actions are taken if a challenge occurs.
American Library Association and American
Association of School Administrators. (1988). Censorship and selection: Issues
and answers for schools. Chicago, IL: American Library Association and
Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administrators.
Balajthy, E. (1988). Confrontation and alienation: Education's flawed
response to religious textbook objections. Paper presented at 32nd annual
meeting of the College Reading Association, Atlanta, GA. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 297 297)
Dobson, J. & Bauer, G. (1990). Children at risk: The battle for the
hearts and minds of our kids. Pomona, CA: Word Publishing.
Peterson, M., & Poppen, W. (1992). School counselors and the first
freedom: A guide for responding to challenges to developmental guidance
materials and programs. Unpublished manuscript under development, University of
Hoffman, F. (1989). Intellectual freedom and censorship, An annotated
bibliography. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, Inc.
Parker, F. (1988). Textbook censorship and secular humanism in perspective.
Religion and Public Education, 15(3), 245-250. (ERIC Document Reproduction
Service No. EJ 392 856)
People for the American Way. (1990). Attacks on the freedom to learn. (Annual
report). Washington, DC: Author.
Rotter, J. (Ed.). (1982). Censorship in the classroom. Elementary School
Guidance and Counseling, 17(1), 4-48. Special issue which contains six articles
on humanistic education and New Right censorship. (ERIC Document Reproduction
Service No.EJ 270 863)