Conversations with Students, Teachers, Parents, and Administrators about Censorship and Free Expression inHigh School
BY RACHEL HALLQUIST
their personal experiences for content for their artwork. Drawing from their own lives and imaginations often often ask them to becomedrawing students to utilize in provokes my high school more engaged and invested artmaking than they mightotherwise be inan exclusively formal or technical approach to drawing.
In this expressive environment, difficult and occasionally distressing issues are sometimes present in my students' artwork. While most of my students' personal themes are not the sort of issues that would move me to rush to the school psychologist, such as abuse or suicide, topics do emerge that reveal possiblycontroversial concerns: racism, gender bias, sexual confusion, homophobia, religion, politics, drug exaltation, and sexual activity. Feeling uncomfortable, I spoke with other art teachers at my school and found that almost all of them have general content restrictions for artwork produced in class including restrictions on nudity, drugs, and violence. Nevertheless, I still felt uneasy; does establishing suchboundaries mean students will stop thinking about sex, abusing drugs, being depressed about their achievement, feeling alienated, or any other physical and/or psychological challenges teenagers may face?
"Ifthe content of a student's artwork isquestioned by the community, will the administration support my goals as an educator? Could Ibe out of a job next year?" However, there are also legalmatters that I considered as well. What about free speech? Do students not
have a right to express their ideas, even if
their ideas are unpopular or controversial?
ART EDUCATION / MAY 2008
seek out adequate means of organizing new and often disparate thoughts" (p. 35). Moreover, artmaking as a means of expression and creative actitivity could have positive psychological effectson students (Lowenfeld, 1957). Furthermore, art education utilizes high-level, sophisticated thinking, and problem solving (Eisner, 2002).
administration support my goals as an educator? Could I be out of a job next year?" However, there are also legal matters that I considered as well. What about free speech? Do students not have a right to express their ideas, even if their ideas areunpopular or controversial? In the absence of an official policy at my teaching site, I wanted to understand how teachers, students, administrators, and parents make decisions about the appropriateness of student artwork. What works are considered to be appropriate? What works are inappropriate? How are these decisions made? In what contexts can student works be displayed when they address thornyissues like violence, religion, or sex?
NAEA Policy on Censorship and Classroom Practice
According to the National Art Education Association (NAEA), "The freedom to create and to experience works of art is essential to our democracy" (NAEA, 1991, para. 1). Teachers should not endorse particular images or ideas but encourage students to think critically about a diverse array of perspectives.Individuals are encouraged to reject or accept any work but individuals may not suppress the expression of any work. Educators should impress upon students the importance of free expression (NAEA, 1991). Despite the NAEA policy on free expres sion and although controversial themes may be developmentally fitting, research shows that censorship is prevalent in art classes for a variety of reasons. In asurvey of Georgia art teachers, Bruce Bowman (1999) noted that student work that deals with sexual themes, drug imagery, and violence was heavily censored or prohibited by art teachers. Many teachers cited job security and working autonomously as reasons for censoring or avoiding these potentially controversial topics. However, David Henley (1997) wrote that avoiding controversy might just be a...
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