Statement on Censorship and Professional Guidelines


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

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.

Example: Drug abuse is a menace to students. Eliminate all books that portray drug abuse.

Example: Remove this book. The language includes profanity.

Examples of Professional Guidelines

Example: Include some books with unhappy endings to give a varied view of life.

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.

Example: Include at appropriate grade levels books that will help students understand the personal and social consequences of drug abuse.

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:

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.

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.

Guidelines are abstractions, and honest differences of opinion will exist about translating abstractions into concrete teaching and selection of materials.

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.