We cannot let the higher education system censor our world

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Paul Dawson

Censorship is the modern day equivalent of Ray Bradbury’s burning books and it’s poisoning our education system.

The right to free speech is one of if not the most valuable right we as people can have. Free speech allows us to express our feelings, emotions, and who we are as people. It’s a truly wonderful right which we in the U.K. are lucky to have; and I believe I speak for myself and every other writer when I say I will be forever grateful for this seemingly basic right, as without it, I wouldn’t be able to write this. Free speech doesn’t just allow for articles to be written, it allows for us to express ourselves in speech, blogs, tweets, videos, TikToks, you name it. 

Free speech underpins our society, which is why, whenever we see someone’s right to free speech threatened, we all march to the same beat. We fight for this right to be in place all around the world and for everyone to be given the opportunity to speak their opinions. We roar in outrage when incidents of censorship are found in North Korea, China, or Iran, and rightfully so. However, there are censorship issues much closer to home which we seem to have a blind eye towards. The educational sector of the western hemisphere has been subjected to a vast amount of censorship, in particular over the last few years. 

The goal of higher education is to prepare the next generation of critical minds for the real world. Throughout our time at university or college, we are enriched with information to allow us to progress into our chosen profession. Despite how simple this may seem, the educational system does much more than just provide information; it allows for research, creativity, and advancement. But by censoring our ability to truly engage with our chosen subjects, how are we supposed to become the next generation of world changers?

The issue of censorship in higher education can be divided into two sections, the first of which is the censorship of staff. Staff are provided with a range of topics which they can and cannot teach; this can be anything from particular novels to discussions about certain historical events. The second pathway is the censoring of students throughout the duration of the course, spanning from banned words or phrases on campus to not being allowed to cover certain topics in essays or dissertations, or even the banning of certain societies within the university. 

The issue of courses being censored is one familiar with too many institutions across the globe. Many American classrooms throughout the years have missed the opportunity to relate to Holden Caufield’s teenage angst or experience Harper Lee’s candid discussion of race in To Kill a Mockingbird. Similarly, in the past British students have been robbed of learning Joyce’s Ulysses or Humbert Humbert’s twisted fantasies of Lolita. Often, this form of censorship is put in place by the government to prevent audiences “getting any bad ideas”. However, Lee’s discussion of race in her bestselling novel provides readership with an education of the toxic culture of racism. Harper Lee believed the decision to ban her novel ridiculous and wrote to the district which banned it. She said: “Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is “immoral” has made me count the years between now and 1984…I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism.” 

School boards have even considered banning Harry Potter due to the potential for students to be encouraged to partake in the “Satanic” or “occult” subtexts that run throughout. A proposal which is undoubtedly funny but utterly ridiculous. But this isn’t just something historical we can shake our heads at; this issue of censorship thrives to this day. 2018 saw American school boards question whether The Perks of Being a Wallflower should be taught. The novel, which has themes of depression and anxiety, is a source of comfort for teens experiencing the same kind of trauma. By banning it, it only isolates those groups further – the notion is truly ridiculous. These are proven examples of the values of education being limited due to censorship, as it halts the extent of which students are able to learn. The banning of these books doesn’t just have educational disadvantages, but also personal ones. They deal with difficult subjects which allow for personal reflection and could give students catharsis from a world of alienation.

This censorship extends beyond fiction, with Yesodey Hatorah girls’ school in North London removing all examples of homosexuality as well as male to female interaction from their textbooks by crossing them out in black marker. This is an excellent example of why institutional censorship is extremely damaging, as they can normalise extreme viewpoints. It can go beyond simple censorship and become a dangerous brainwashing.

This form of dangerous censorship can be found on university campuses as well, and worryingly this has become a much greater concern. Many students feel their voices are being held down by the institutions they attend, as the 2016 FSUR reported that 90% of institutions are censoring speech with Leeds and Edinburgh being some of the most restrictive. The Russell Group universities have received extreme backlash for their restrictive nature over the last few years, and play a key role in why censored speech at university went up 80% from 2015 to 2016. The ban is wide scale and ranges from societies to newspapers to songs, and the list goes on. This censorship takes away the university experience away from many students. University isn’t all about the grind of a degree but the social experience you receive throughout it, and these forms of censorship are harsh and unfair on all students. 

Censorship is needed within society and education, I would be naive to suggest otherwise. However, the harsh range of censorship within education is not only dangerous but limits the potential of students, as without the free range of study and expression you are not able to become the best possible version of yourself. Censorship should be used for the banning of racial slurs towards other students or the banning of transphobic language on campus, but shouldn’t be used to stifle the education of students. Education is a great commodity and therefore students and staff should be able to utilise every part of it. Censorship should be a rare precaution, not the rule. 


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