Censorship in Education: The importance of critical analysis in our classrooms

Robert Patton teaching his American History II class. Photo by Ben Meglin

The discourse surrounding American education has been dominated recently by many extreme cases of censorship, book bannings, and harmful legislation. 

A particularly egregious example is a recent bill passed in Florida, making it illegal for anyone to make an individual at school “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin.” 

Leaving aside the fact that this bill would be seemingly impossible to enforce, this legislation is a perfect example of an educational ideology that is, in of itself, anti-education. This ideology fundamentally believes that education should be used to ingrain a ludicrous, racist, and totally inaccurate view of America, its history, its people, and its issues.

The ban of “Critical Race Theory” in schools around the country is another such example of a censorship in education that has dominated the news cycle, and is equally reflective of this belief. 

Many states have already banned the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT), and many more have legislation that is waiting to be passed, to the same effect. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis even mentioned it as a big factor in his support of Florida’s ban on discomfort on account of race in schools.

The bans on teaching CRT in schools, and the barrage of news about its ‘indoctrination of children’ is quite ironic, considering it has almost no chance of entering any advanced high school curriculum, much less the classroom of an elementary or middle school student. 

CRT is an advanced topic of study taught in college and graduate school that seeks to analyze the history of America and its intersection with race through the lens of critical theory. The term, however, is still broadly used to levy more general attacks on teaching about racism in schools. 

Fundamentally, this condemnation of CRT, and antiracist teaching, serves to attack the teaching of critical thinking, especially on issues like American racism.

Instances like the law in Florida, or the banning of CRT are not mistakes, or random restrictions on education. They are not only targeted attacks on critical thinking, but they are clear extensions of the fundamental belief that education should be a tool to uphold the status quo. 

The belief that education should be a tool to promote gratitude instead of critical thought: a tool to reinforce an unnuanced, monolithic, and inaccurate view of America. 

Mira Prater’s AP English IV class during a silent reading period. Photo by Ben Meglin

The law in Florida made it illegal to make anyone in school feel guilt, distress, or discomfort about their race or sex. 

Being that the history of race and sex in America is quite distressing and uncomfortable, to support and implement this bill is to promote an education system that completely avoids teaching the history of America or any critical thinking about it.

That is the goal of such bills: to prevent students from learning America’s actual history: to prevent students from thinking critically about America or its systems. 

Education should neither promote comfort, nor produce students who leave their classrooms feeling only content and grateful for what America is. To be content with society is to stop altogether its forward progression. 

Leaders like Desantis believe education shouldn’t address any difficult or controversial subjects that might challenge the status quo. I would challenge Governor DeSantis to name a single great American who was content with their country. 

Promoting progress in education begins by understanding that all these obvious restrictions on education and censorships are not isolated. They are instead backed by an ideology with a defective view of education. 

The complacency promoted by this ideology is the antithesis of progress. Progress that can only be made through critical thinking, and a complete and nuanced understanding of the past. American education must be centered by a belief in teaching such history and analysis.

Once we view American education through this lens, we can begin to analyze our own local schools and curriculums. 

It is easy to stand against the most extreme manifestations of anti-intellectualism and anti-education, like book bannings and censorship. It is alot harder, however, to deeply reflect on our own schools and how they can improve on these issues. 

Ongoing, nuanced discussions and deep reflections need to be had about our own local schooling, and how it can improve. It is arguably more important to understand how we are subtly pushing monolithic, biased, or unnuanced ideas in the classroom, than to only criticize the worst cases of censorship or misinformation.

We can’t allow the absence of overt censorship to absolve us of reflecting on how we can improve our teaching and managing of our schools.

I have personally felt in many of my classes that not enough was being done to really promote deep, nuanced understandings and critical thinking about complex historical issues. On topics such as the Vietnam War, American imperialism, and systemic racism, I personally felt that my classes missed the mark on promoting a deep understanding of these issues. More importantly, I didn’t feel that there was a space to think about, and truly criticize, our preconceived notions about these, and many more similar topics. 

Overall, Riverside and Durham Public Schools need to remember that their lack of overt censorship is, by no means, a pass to skip the tough conversations that need to be had about continually improving our educational system and educational practices.

Bettering education is not an end goal, but an ongoing process of continually looking for areas of improvement and implementing new strategies and solutions.

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