Censorship Of Children’s Literature in Canada – Education Essay

Censorship Of Children’s Literature in Canada – Education Essay
Censorship is the control of forms of human expression; it is sometimes implemented by the government. The visible motive of censorship is often to stabilize or improve the society that the government would have control over. It is

most commonly applied to acts that occur in public circumstances, and most formally involves the suppression of ideas by criminalizing or regulating expression. Furthermore, discussion of censorship often includes less formal means of controlling perceptions by excluding various ideas from mass communication. What is censored may range from specific words to entire concepts and it may be influenced by value systems.

The censorship of materials that are used in an elementary public school setting are unique to other forms of censorship in society because of the nature of the audience in a school setting. Age appropriateness needs to be taken into consideration when examining materials for elementary school use because of the naivety and immaturity of students at a young age. In today’s free Canada, challenges of literature are taken seriously almost everyday. Furthermore, a great number of the recent challenges have pointed towards children’s literature for its literary content and illustrations. Surprisingly, many Canadian children’s books are censored, not at the government level, but at the level of local schools and libraries. How can Canadians allow this to happen if many of us believe that the role of the true educator is to teach children to be free thinkers, not closed-minded? Restricting children’s literature puts a severe limitation on a child’s right to read.

Many local and school libraries’ actions contradict the Canadian Library Association’s Statement of Intellectual Freedom, which states that “all persons in Canada have the fundamental right, as embodied in the nations’ Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to have access to all expressions of knowledge, creativity and intellectual activity.” What should be done to solve this problem? Before this question can be tackled, three other questions have to be answered. These questions involve the ways children’s books are censored, the reasons why children’s books are censored, and the actual effects that the challenged books have on children.

Learning involves the full awareness of the spectrum of knowledge, skills and attitudes, thus how will students learn to critically analyze material if not given the opportunity? However, the question may not be whether or not to teach critical analysis of controversial issues but rather, at what point students are mature enough to make informed decisions regarding certain issues. Students may not be able to critically analyze material for themselves, because of their lower stage of cognitive development, thus all material will predictably be taken at face value. Therefore, content of material needs to go through some sort of screening process when being assessed for school use.

Another important issue regarding censorship is the authorization of a person or persons to be responsible for the analysis of questionable material. Everyone has different perspectives and opinions in regard to content that they deem obscene or objectionable and therefore which opinions are most prominent in regards to the education of our youth? This paper will analyze the schools’, teachers’ and parents’ rights in regard to the censorship of student resources and also the implications of allowing or banning objectionable or controversial material within the public school system.

Rights of the School (Minister, School Board, Principal)

Legally, the Minister of learning has an overriding authority over the curriculum and instructional materials to be used in the school setting. The school board and superintendents answer to the recommendations of the Minister. The Alberta School Act states in Section 39b that the Minister may authorize courses of study, education programs or instructional materials for use in schools. In addition to authorization, in Section 39d the Minister may approve any course, education program, or instructional material that may be submitted to the Minister by a board or another operator of a school for use in a school. These statements allow the minister the right to implement and approve resources and courses into school but, in addition, the Minister also has the right to censor the use of materials in the school. As stated by Section 39e of the School Act, the Minister is subject to the right, by order, to prohibit the use of a course, an education program or instructional material in schools. Thus, when curriculum materials are concerned, in regard to censorship, the Minister is at the head of authority within the perimeters of the school system as to the censorship of programs and instructional materials.

As stated in Section 20b of the Alberta School Act, the principal works in conjunction with the Minister and the school board by ensuring that the instruction provided by the teachers employed in the school is consistent with the courses of study and education programs prescribed, approved and authorized pursuant to the School Act. The principal also must promote cooperation between the school and the community as mentioned in Section 20g of the School Act. Thus the principal must ensure that the parents are informed about what is being taught to their youth in regards to courses and instructional materials.

Rights of the Teachers

Legally, the Alberta School Act states in Section 18b, that a teacher, while providing instruction or supervision, must teach the courses of study and education programs that are prescribed, approved or authorized pursuant to the School Act. Thus, the teacher has obligations to the curriculum and approved resources. However, the teacher also has rights to apply professional judgment into the education of students within their own classroom.

Professionally, as stated in the ATA manual Section II, The Nature of a Profession, it discusses how teachers have the ability to “apply reasoned judgment and professional decision making daily in diagnosing educational needs, prescribing and implementing instructional programs and evaluation progress of students” (Pg. 7). Therefore, teachers have the right to base diagnosis, planning, methodology and evaluation on professional knowledge and skills, as illustrated in the Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities for Teachers, Section 1. The teacher also maintains the responsibility to the pupils to teach in a manner that respects the dignity and rights of all persons without prejudice as to race, religious beliefs, color, sex, sexual orientation, physical characteristics, age, ancestry or place of origin, as stated in Section 1 of the ATA Code of Professional Conduct. The teacher has the right to teach in a manner that he or she deems professionally reasonable in respect to the rights of others and within the confines of the curriculum.

Rights of the Parents

Parents play a vital role in regards to their children’s education, and as such have special parental rights in regards to the rights, power, liberties, duties that a parent has with respect to his/her child (Pansegrau, 2003). The parens patriae authority refers to the rights of the parents as the child’s natural guardian and as such, is closely associated to the principle of the best interests of the child (Magsino, pg. 300). Parents living in a democratic society have the legal right to voice concerns related to their child’s education. Section 2b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. The Teachers’ Rights Responsibilities and Legal Liabilities states that the teacher is required to act in loco parentis. This refers to the teacher standing, in relation to the student, in the position of a caring parent, as unofficial guardian (pg. 24). Therefore, the teacher must act in a way that the parents of a child would, so if the values of the parents are not respected in the classroom the teacher may not be acting in loco parentis. Parents then have a right to question the instruction or material that their child is required to learn.

Judicial Rights of all Canadians

The court system, mainly the Supreme Court, would be the highest-ranking decision maker in Canada regarding the censorship of materials allowed in schools. Thus, after a person has taken the objection of the curriculum or instructional materials, throughout the ranks of the school system, they then have the right to turn to the judicial section of Alberta or Canada.


A case in British Columbia that discussed censorship rights was in regard to a teacher who chose to use homosexual books as instructional resources for his kindergarten class. A group of religious parents objected to the use of books that contained same-sex parents and thus the teacher went to the school board for approval of the use of the books in his class. The school board turned down the use of the particular books in the classroom but the Supreme Court later overturned the decision stating, “no age is too tender for children to learn the value of tolerance” (Globe and Mail, 12/21/2002). This case was very publicized and consisted of passionate protesters on both sides, however, many Canadian children’s authors’ books have been taken off the shelves as a result of a few complaints to librarians or principals. This case is quite complex in regard to the issues of homosexual rights and the involvement of homosexual material in the classroom. Thus, the issue of censorship rights will be the primary topic of analysis.

Analysis and Reflection on Article and Issue of Censorship

In terms of a consequentialist perspective, I will address the courts’ ruling in regard to the acceptance of homosexual material in an elementary school based on benefit maximization. The main focus of this case is in regard to the censorship of material based on discriminatory beliefs. One must look beyond the homosexual nature of the material to explore the rights of parents, teachers and the school board in regard to the implications that the allowance of these instructional resources implies. To provide a basis for the implications of the issue, a list of the advantages and disadvantages will be described.

Educating students to become tolerant, open-minded humans is a means to promote the greatest good for the greatest number. Thus, censorship should not be used to promote discriminatory beliefs about another individual or group.


o The goals of education as illustrated by the ATA manual are to encourage students by developing his or her ability to get along with people of varying backgrounds, beliefs and lifestyles. Students will be made aware of topics that are relevant to the lifestyles of Canada’s diverse society. Therefore, students are not only taught tolerance or acceptance towards a diverse range of individuals but students are also allowed to critically analyze issues to develop their own perspective on those topics. This provides for benefit maximization because the future population will be more tolerant of a diverse population and therefore society will learn to respect the rights of others differences.
o The rights of the students are upheld in regard to Section 2b of the Charter in regards to freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. Students are constantly bombarded with images in the media regarding many controversial issues that they are exposed to at a young age. Thus, it is beneficial for students to have intellectual freedom to examine those topics in an intelligent, bias free manner.
o The School Act is upheld because the material reflects the unique lifestyles of society and allows for understanding of lifestyles different from ones own. Section 3 of the Act states that all education programs offered and instructional materials used in schools must reflect the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others and honor and respect the common values and beliefs of Albertans.
o Teachers are able to make decisions about the material used in their classrooms. Teachers also have a fiduciary obligation to not impose their personal opinions on issues since the teacher would be abusing their position of authority.
o People of a religious background are not able to manipulate the school system to support their own ideas of what lifestyles are acceptable or what topics are to be taught or banned from the public school system. Since every individual will have different perspectives on issues presented in the school system, tolerance of different ideas should be taught instead of the exclusion of one belief or another.


o Students may be faced with issues that they are not cognitively or emotionally able to comprehend. Children may become confused with issues that are at a maturity basis much higher than their own. John Stuart Mill states that truth is achieved by open criticism and public debate; however, the issue of immaturity is a factor. Children need to be protected from consequences of their own actions (Strike, pg. 41).
o Parents represent a wide array of special interests, cultural backgrounds, religions, political preferences and lifestyles. Therefore, there is a huge array of perspectives to take into consideration when deciding between developing a sound education for students and being sensitive to the motives of special interest groups.
o By not allowing parents to censor material to suit their beliefs it restricts the parent’s choice to limit their child’s exposure to certain beliefs.


The negative connotation of the term censorship should not be confused with the need for schools to develop an intelligent, sensitive, broad-minded basis for the proper selection of curriculum and research materials. Teachers need to respect the Minister and school board’s decision in regard to the approved list of curriculum and instructional materials. However, as strengthened by the British Columbia case, the teacher has the right to present his or her case for either implementing or banning the use of certain materials for classroom use to the school board, Minister or Judicial system if they feel that their own or other’s rights are being violated or if discrimination is occurring.

Teachers are instructed to provide information to parents in regard to curriculum to be covered, methods of evaluation and instructional resources. In return, parents will be able to support the learning of their children. This is a necessary component to any classroom especially in regards to the content that will be covered by the classroom teaching. Parents still have the right to remove their child from studies that they believe to be objecting to the values that they as parents hold. Thus parents should be given opportunity to be included in their child’s education.


In regard to issues on censorship, it is difficult to define the importance of each stakeholder’s rights in reference to the censoring process. However, it is clear that some censorship for appropriate material for use in public elementary schools is essential to the education and development of our youth. The maturity of an audience is a key factor to the type of censorship instilled within that school system. Public school systems must allow access to many facets of knowledge and information in the search of truth. Therefore, the instructional material used in a classroom must represent this goal. However, in regard to discriminatory material or material that excludes the rights of others, censorship should be used to promote the rights of all individuals and not to promote the beliefs or values of one individual or group. Unfortunately, censorship in its many forms is part of people’s lives from the very first moment they walk into their kindergarten classrooms. Many books are too easily censored as a result of a few complaints or preconceived views. An educator’s job is to open up the world of books to children. Those who restrict the world of books, because somebody might object, are simply failing to do their job. Schools must respect the censorial rights of groups and individuals, but schools must equally try to ensure that such people do not succeed in extending their prohibitions to everyone’s children. If not, children’s authors will be unable to write about controversial or unexplored issues. Children’s literature will go back to the boring educational texts of the past. Every child should be allowed access to these controversial books, so that thoughts and questions can be raised about the world that we live in.


Alberta School Act, (2000)

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