School districts around the country are becoming more adept at turning aside challenges by parents and religious groups to school texts and lessons, according to a study released Wednesday by a censorship watchdog group.
“School districts, communities, teachers and parents are beginning to fight back,” said Michael Hudson, vice president and general counsel of People for the American Way, founded by television producer Norman Lear to monitor 1st Amendment issues.
The group’s report said school systems are becoming better prepared for attacks on reading materials, with teachers and parents organizing campaigns to counter those challenges and districts adopting written review policies that allow the books to remain in use while officials evaluate them.
“Although the number of incidents increased significantly from last year, school districts are beginning to be more prepared with formal adoption and reconsideration policies,” Hudson said. “Where there is a good adoption policy in effect, we find the chance of censorship prevailing greatly reduced.”
The study--the eighth annual survey by the group--reported 244 attempts to ban books and topics of study from the nation’s public schools in 1989-90.
Fewer than one-third of the challenges succeeded in persuading school officials to remove the offensive material--down from 50% the previous year, the report said.
California led the nation in complaints registered about school texts, in part because of protracted battles around the state over a set of schoolbooks called “Impressions,” which some parents contend are satanic and immoral and contain violence inappropriate for children.
Nearly half the challenges nationwide were against literature found in school libraries, rather than textbooks--including such novels as “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Of Mice and Men” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Protests generally centered on books that include offensive language or sexual situations.
The report, compiled from news accounts and surveys of teachers and librarians, called the efforts to restrict reading material “attacks on the freedom to learn.” But those who challenge the texts have contended they are just showing a healthy interest in what their children are taught.
“Our position is we’re opposed to censorship,” said the Rev. Robert Simonds, president of the Costa Mesa-based Citizens for Excellence in Education, and a leader of the move to ban the “Impressions” series.
“What we’re for is good selection,” he said. “We believe parents have a right to be involved in the selection of the books their children read. When they’re kept on the outside or not listened to, they’re being censored and they have a right to be upset.”