I’m writing about censorship mainly because it is an issue that all Christian teachers need to face–especially literature, art and music teachers, and especially those who teach in a faith-based school. Although I may differ in opinion from some Christian teachers and schools from time to time, I hope that this article will not offend my loyal readers, but instead challenge you to continue the attempt to meet both academic and spiritual needs of your students.
When I traveled abroad in college, one of the seminars I was required to take was entitled “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” I suppose due to the fact that it was supposed to be a cross-cultural experience and also because we were all growing as Christian intellectuals, they considered it a relevant topic. Athens symbolized the world of intellectualism since Greece was the native land of famous philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato. Jerusalem, in turn, symbolized the world of faith since it was the birthplace of Judaism and also Christianity. The seminar was entitled as a question because it is the age-old question of our times. How do we reconcile our Christian faith with our ability to reason with the intellect? Must we choose either/or? Is our intellect truly a completely separate entity that should be divorced from our faith?
For the teacher of literature, art and music (and–let’s face it–history and science as well), sensitivity to the needs and maturity levels of the students is necessary at all times. As parents, we observe our children and try to ascertain when our children are ready to tackle topics that require critical thinking and wisdom. Proverbs says that only fools despise wisdom and understanding. In turn, when we realize that our children are unable to make mature critical judgments in certain areas, we are smart enough not to put them in tempting situations. As teachers, we need to respect the rights of parents and the rights of the children in our classroom.
Of course, the easy solution to any and all book challenges is to do whatever it takes to avoid controversy. If a book is not right for one child, it is not right for them all. Let’s just choose a different book next time and make it clear that the controversial book is not to be used in the future. Certainly that would solve the problem at the time. It certainly would please the person who objected to the book’s content. However, can we really generalize the maturity level of one student to be true for all students, past, present and future? Does one parent have the right to choose for all members of a classroom or all members of a school?
I would like to urge Christian teachers and administrators to consider the messages that book censorship send to students. In order to take the easiest road, we are neglecting the intellectual rights of our students to make some critical decisions for themselves. We are telling them that they are incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong and that books are responsible for making us immoral creatures. We are failing to take responsibility ourselves for giving them the tools to make those critical judgments. In robbing them of these opportunities, we are also giving them a false idea of the world around them. We are carefully molding a world for them that, instead, depicts the Christian life as something free and easy. Ignorance is bliss, right?
We are also telling them that they have to choose between faith or their intellect. We are telling them that they cannot exist on the same plane. That one’s intellect cannot be satisfied while being a Christian, and that one cannot be a Christian without leaving the intellect behind. That the solution to dealing with the world is simply to hide away, avoid and ignore it. Again, I mean no offense to those who, as I do, espouse the idea that we are “in the world, but not of it.” I am not saying that a Christian should just roll willy nilly into sinful practices, view pornography as an intellectual exercise or insist that romance novels are works of art. Graphic content without purpose is just graphic content, and I agree that there are plenty of contemporary examples of this trend that should be avoided.
So how do I suggest that we tackle the problem of “difficult content”? At all times, avoiding censorship will be a challenge.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves the following questions when selecting materials to use:
Do these materials promote a lifestyle that is sinful, or do they show the consequences of immoral behavior?
Do these materials serve as an example of a strong literary/intellectual work, or is a lesser work that is worthless in a literary sense?
Do these materials contain graphic, long mentions and descriptions, or are they delicately written so as to avoid salacious content just for content’s sake?
What is the context of the content to the overall work–does it serve a purpose, or is it meant to simply serve as “shock factor”?
Do these materials serve an educational purpose and meet the reading and maturity needs of the students? (For example, you would never expect a middle school student to understand The Scarlet Letter on a reading level, and you also would not expect them to be mature enough to tackle the content and themes of Crime and Punishment.)
Will you be addressing these content issues with the students? (It is usually worse to pretend that they’re not there and assume that the students already understand a Christian world view on these topics without guidance toward making these critical judgments.)
Again, this is the opinion of one woman, and not necessarily the view of any single institution or any other individual. I do not claim to hold the key to the mysteries of the universe or to claim that my opinion on this issue is the only correct approach. I am also not advocating that we should not take our moral responsibilities seriously as to the materials we use to teach. I am instead attempting to think through censorship as an issue, simply because it affects us all and can potentially cause harm and hurt to many people who work in Christian school ministries. I welcome honest, respectful feedback on this topic, as long as it does not demean others or cause more division within the Church. We are called to work together in unity, so let’s not allow this issue to divide us! Instead, let’s reinforce each other and edify each other within the ministry.