'Classic' censorship alive and well

High school censorship seems to occur in an ever-growing set of circumstances. For example, in recent years the Report has described restrictions on student Web sites, repression of underground newspapers and rejection of student media advisers who stand up for their students’ rights.

But for every incident that fits one of the descriptions above, there are a dozen examples of a more “classic” kind of censorship, most of which never make it into these pages.

School administrators ordering mainstream, school-sponsored high school newspapers not to publish stories or editorials they do not like has become so commonplace that it far outnumbers every other kind of censorship incident reported to the Student Press Law Center. In fact, it would not be difficult for us to fill each issue of the Report with nothing but these stories and still be forced leave some on the cutting-room floor.

Our goal, as always, is to give readers a sense of the wide variety of press freedom concerns that confront the student media. But in this issue, we offer a reminder that censorship of high school newspapers is alive and well. In fact, our sense is that it is growing by leaps and bounds.

Our cover story (see Censorship, page 20) and this issue’s high school censorship section relay the sad reality that has become daily life for most high school newspaper staffs today. Efforts by school officials to censor what is often the best of high school journalism are seen from coast to coast at schools large and small. No school is immune, no publication safe. Many of the victims of censorship have won state and national awards for their efforts and are assisted by nationally recognized advisers.

Of course, the question these incidents collectively present is “why?” Why are many school administrators so quick to choose censorship as the means of expressing their disagreement with the choices student editors make? Why does respectful disagreement and healthy debate seem such a foreign concept at many schools?

To no one’s surprise, it often seems to boil down to concerns about image. School censors’ comments show that “protecting” the community from controversy and potential conflict is an important recurring theme in their efforts to limit the student press (see Image Control, page 24). Today’s beleaguered school administrators prefer conformity to the messiness that always accompanies the expression of unpopular viewpoints.

Enforced conformity may seem like a good way to run an efficient school. But it is a lousy way to teach young people the values of our democracy.