Attacking The Freedom To Learn

"Parental Rights" bills are threatening to censor freedom of information in schools nationwide. In 20 states, conservative groups have introduced bills giving parents the legal right to decide exactly what their children will learn in school -- or take the school to court. In Colorado, the Coalition for Parental Responsibility gathered enough signatures to allow voters in November to decide whether the bill should become law. If it passes, the state would not be allowed to "infringe" upon any parent's idea of what their children should learn in school. People for the American Way recently published their annual report on censorship in education, titled Attacks on the Freedom to Learn. This 300 page report includes a description of "parental rights" bills as well as lists of the most frequently censored authors and books, the states where educational censorship occurs most (California was number one), and a state-by-state breakdown of known attacks. PFAW recorded 475 attacks on student expression, curricula, libraries, and textbooks in the 1995-96 school year -- up 46% from the previous year -- more attacks than PFAW has recorded in their 14 years of covering this issue. This number becomes even larger with PFAW's note that the American Library Association estimates there are four or five unreported incidents of censorship for every one reported. Most of the attacks in these four areas came from people either directly or indirectly associated with the religious right. The attacks focus on all areas of educational life, from student press to films shown in class. People of color as writers and subject matter are increasingly under fire from conservative factions, according to PFAW. Their report states that a disproportionate number of books by African American women writers were attacked this year. Books with information on people of color were also highly challenged. In Santa Barbara, community members objected to the textbook The Mexican American Heritage because they claimed it "promoted a separatist, un-American agenda and encouraged students to revolt against the United States." In Hudson, Ohio, according to the report, "a school board member and resident affiliated with the local chapter of Citizens for Excellence in Education objected to the textbook The American People, saying the book was too multicultural and contained too many "details on the difficulties experienced by slaves, indentured servants, immigrants, farmers, and industrial workers." Another objector said, "There is an overabundant supply of material on women, African Americans, and Native Americans." Unfortunately, school officials and school board members are often times the censors. To compile the report, PFAW interviewed teachers, students, parents, librarians, and school officials who either responded to their survey or contacted the researchers on their own. They also used news reports and outreach to parents, activists, and education professionals. The result is a large volume of information split into three parts. The first part is a summary breaking down their findings and explaining their results in a larger context beyond the incident or the state. The second section is broken down into states, with the exception of the seven states reporting no incidents -- Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, North Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Each state has a short overview and individual incidents, objectors, and resolutions. The last section offers lists ranking different aspects of the public education assaults. To order "Attacks on the Freedom to Learn," send $16.95 to People For the American Way, 2000 M Street NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20009. Portions of the report will also be posted at PFAW's website: http://www.pfaw.org/attacks.htm

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