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To censor or not?

  • Written by Michele
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As educators we are continually negotiating between duty of care and morality. It is not always an easy process as we also have to consider the development of the individual. I recently displayed year 9 digital imaging work in order to provoke conversation and to allow students to feel proud of their work. Both were successful on this front. Students completed a folio front cover, re-designed their favourite book cover, created a billboard on a topic they felt strongly about and re-designed a magazine front cover. I was very proud of the work produced and it showed great skill and a willingness to listen to advice when making improvements. No matter what my students are working on I like them to move out of their comfort zone and push the boundaries both skill and topic wise. When students are encouraged to do this it reminds me why I am a teacher.

I was so impressed with the caliber of work that once I had displayed it in the year 9 hallway, I also chose to email colleagues and encouraged them to have a look when they next went pass. I also chose to put the work into an imovie and students selected music to go with it. This was then presented at the Year 9 assembly and received with a huge round of applause. I chose to show this work in student reception to show visitors to the school some amazing work of our students and duly emailed staff about viewing this work when they next walked through reception.

So you can imagine my shock some 5 weeks later to discover a colleague found some of the work offensive and removed the work. This colleague didn’t have the professionalism to speak to me about the work or what the brief was for students but chose to pass the work on to the year 9 coordinator, then the deputy principal. What astounds me the most is that my colleagues at no time thought it was important or relevant to discuss the matter with me. They also made an executive decision to dispose of student work. Last time I looked we lived in a democracy. A democracy where individuals have the right to express themselves without fear of being censored.  Sure some of the topics were confronting, however they are topics which have had an impact on students and are topics which need to be discussed openly. I have always felt that I can empower my students through knowledge but if we sweep it under the carpet it sends the wrong message to our students. It says we think some things are not open for discussion and that we don’t care about what they are going through or dealing with. These images provoked conversation in the corridor and as a teacher I was privy to these conversations and was able to dispel myths, what are great opportunity. Topics of self harm and body image are tough, but we need to have these tough discussions and conversations. It shows that we are not afraid of the tough topics, it says we care.

Censorship can be very dangerous. Dangerous because where do we start and where do we end? Why is some work censored and not others?  Who gets to say what is appropriate or in appropriate? There were inconsistencies in the work which was removed and what was left on the wall. So what message does this send to our students? Sure, duty of care to our students is paramount, if this is the case why weren’t students of the offensive work offered counselling? Why was nothing discussed with these students? I will always defend my students’ rights to be heard, to have a voice and to be able to express themselves creatively on topics that are pertinent to their lives. I will never shy away from the difficulties that may face my students and I will always defend their right to express themselves.

I feel strongly about this topic and I encourage all of us to have open dialogue, to show a willingness to allow freedom of expression and to tackle the difficult topics without fear of retribution. This is what helps to make strong and resilient young people. “Easy, pleasant and beautiful as it is to obey, development of character is not complete when the person is fitted only to obey”. N.Gemmell.