Introduction | The First Amendment and Public Schools | Censorship | How Big a Problem is Censorship? | Roles and Responsibilities | Censorship Policies | Resource Guide


Major Educational Organizations Take a Stand for the First Amendment

Many national and international organizations concerned with elementary and secondary education have established guidelines on censorship issues as a service for their constituents. Based on their goals, values, and constituencies, each organization addresses censorship a little differently, but each is committed to free speech and recognizes the dangers and hardships imposed by censorship. The organizations couple their concern for free speech with a concern for balancing the rights of students, teachers and parents. Many place heavy emphasis on the importance of establishing policies for selecting classroom materials, as well as procedures for addressing complaints. The following listing summarizes the censorship and material selection policies adopted by leading national and international educational organizations.

National Education Association (NEA)
The NEA is America’s oldest and largest organization committed to advancing the cause of public education. Its 2.5 million members work at every level of education. Elected representatives from across the country are responsible for setting policy, which includes resolutions on selecting and developing education materials and teaching techniques. The resolutions embody NEA’s belief that democratic values are best transmitted in an atmosphere free of censorship and deplore "pre-publishing censorship, book burning crusades, and attempts to ban books from the…curriculum." Taking a proactive position, the NEA encourages its members to be involved in developing textbooks and materials and to seek the removal of laws and regulations that restrict selection of diverse materials.

The National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association (NCTE/IRA)
The NCTE "supports intellectual freedom at all educational levels." A 80,000-member organization devoted to improving the teaching and learning of English and the language arts, the NCTE offers support, advice, and resources to teachers and schools faced with challenges to teaching materials or methods. The NCTE has developed a Statement on Censorship and Professional Guidelines in recognition that English and language arts teachers face daily decisions about teaching materials and methods. The IRA has 90,000 members worldwide, working in a variety of educational capacities. Its goal is to promote high levels of literacy by improving the quality of reading instruction and encouraging reading as a lifetime habit. The IRA supports "freedom of speech, thought, and inquiry as guaranteed by the First Amendment."

The NCTE and IRA have issued a joint statement on intellectual freedom: "all students in public school classrooms have the right to materials and educational experiences that promote open inquiry, critical thinking, diversity in thought and expression, and respect for others." Their mutual policy sets out four principles aimed at translating the ideals of the First Amendment into classroom reality: (1) to actively support intellectual freedom; (2) to foster democratic values, critical thinking and open inquiry; (3) to prepare for challenges with clearly defined procedures; and (4) to ensure educational communities are free to select and review classroom curricula to meet student needs.

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)
The ASCD is an international organization of professional educators committed to excellence in education. Its mission is to "forge covenants in teaching and learning for the success of all learners." In its statement on censorship, the ASCD recognizes the importance of balancing the rights and needs of students, teachers and parents while maintaining freedom of expression. "When challenges arise, school officials should bear in mind that education is governed by the public . . . [Educators] should recognize the value of citizen participation and respect the right of parents to shape their children’s schooling. At the same time, educators should insist that, as in other fields, professional judgment must not be completely subservient to the popular will. Educators’ primary allegiance must be to the integrity of knowledge and the welfare of students." The ASCD stresses the importance of establishing complaint procedures and affirms that materials are never to be restricted for the purpose of suppressing ideas.

American Library Association (ALA)
The ALA, "the voice of America’s libraries," is dedicated to providing leadership for the "development, promotion and improvement of library and information services…in order to enhance learning and access to information for all." The ALA has a widely emulated Bill of Rights affirming all libraries as forums for information and ideas. The ALA’s policies stipulate that libraries should provide materials from all points of view; challenge censorship; cooperate with free speech groups; grant access to all regardless of origin, age, background or views; and provide exhibit space on an equitable basis. Drawing on the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights, the ALA emphasizes the importance of free speech: "We know that censorship, ignorance, and limitations on the free flow of information are the tools of tyranny and oppression. We believe that ideas and information topple the walls of hate and fear and build bridges of cooperation and understanding far more effectively than weapons and armies."

National Association of Elementary School Principles (NAESP)
Dedicated to assuring that every American boy and girl receives the world’s best elementary and middle school education, NAESP sets policy on curriculum and instruction. In its statement on censorship and academic freedom, "NAESP affirms the right of the student and teacher to use a wide variety of curriculum and literary materials and to explore divergent points of view." NAESP also emphasizes the importance of establishing procedures to address selection of materials and challenges to selections. These procedures are to be carried out, "professionally and equitably" according to established professional criteria, and the values and needs of the community.

National School Board Association
The National Education Policy Network of the National School Boards Association (NEPN/NSBA) Textbook Selection and Adoption policy states, among other things, that "The Board’s first commitment in selecting and adopting textbooks will be the preservation of the student’s right to learn in an atmosphere of academic freedom. Secondly, the Board will support the teachers’ right to exercise professional judgment in their work; but, at the same time, will require teachers to balance this right with an awareness of their responsibility to meet the educational foals and objectives of the school system. Thirdly, the Board recognizes the rights of parents to influence the education of their children. The Board will not, however, allow the wishes of an individual parent to infringe upon the rights of the majority of students in any class."

National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC)
Founded in 1974, NCAC is an alliance of 51 national non-profit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups, united in their support of freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression. NCAC works with teachers, educators, writers, artists, and others around the country dealing with censorship debates in their own communities; it educates its members and the public at large about the dangers of censorship and how to oppose them; and it advances policies that promote and protect freedom of expression and democratic values.