Knowledge enlightens and empowers people and is an essential building block of civilization. Censorship prevents knowledge and narrows the mind.
Gilbert Arizona does not appear to be the cradle of civilization these days. On Tuesday, October 29th, the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board voted to remove pages from the honors biology textbook “Campbell Biology: Concepts & Connections,” because it allegedly violates a 2-year-old state law – Preference for childbirth and adoption: allowable presentation, which states:
“A. In view of the state’s strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion, no school district or charter school in this state may endorse or provide financial or instructional program support to any program that does not present childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.
B. In view of the state’s strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion, no school district or charter school in this state may allow any presentation during instructional time or furnish any materials to pupils as part of any instruction that does not give preference, encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.”
The issue came up after The Alliance Defending Freedom (interesting name choice for a group that seems intent on denying others access to information and the resulting freedom to make life choices different from their own) wrote a letter to Dr. Christina Kishimoto, Superintendent Gilbert Public School, claiming two pages of the biology text book (honors) violates Arizona state law by discussing certain contraception methods and mentioning abortion.
In spite of the Arizona Department of Education opinion letter, finding that the text was not in violation of the law ( the board’s attorney concurring with this opinion), Gilbert Public Schools board acted anyway. In a 3-2 split, the conservative controlled board voted to censor two pages titled “Contraception can prevent unwanted pregnancy,” of the biology text book that mentions contraception as a possible method of avoiding pregnancy, in addition to the all popular and practical option of:
“Complete abstinence (avoiding intercourse) is the only totally effective method of birth control…The effectiveness of other methods of contraception depends on how they are used. Temporary abstinence, also called the rhythm method or natural family planning, depends on refraining from intercourse during the days around ovulation, when fertilization is most likely.”
Now that we are firmly in the middle ages and are dependent on either not making love, or taking the risk that we will not hit it just right with ovulation to prevent pregnancy, the text goes on to also explore the ineffectiveness of the withdrawal method, talks about sterilization, tubal ligation and vasectomy, as well as the effectiveness of barrier methods (condoms, diaphragm, cervical cap), and adds that “some of the most effective methods of contraception.. [are] birth control pills” which leads us to the “offensive language” from these pages:
“Certain drugs can prevent fertilization or implementation even after intercourse has occurred. Combination birth control pills can be prescribed in high doses for emergency contraception; they function as morning after pills (MAPs). If taken within three days after unprotected intercourse, MAPs are about 75% effective. Such treatments should only be used in emergencies because they have significant side effects. If pregnancy has occurred, the drug mifepristone can induce an abortion during the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Mifepristone requires a doctor’s prescription and several visits to a medical facility.”
In response to board member Lily Tram calling this act “censorship,” board member Julie Smith indicated:
“By redacting, we are not censoring. This school district does offer sexual education classes. If we were censoring we would not offer anything on this topic whatsoever.
Ms. Smith, being on a public school board, might want to refresh her knowledge and understanding of what censorship means:
“Censorship — the control of the information and ideas circulated within a society — has been a hallmark of dictatorships throughout history. In the 20th Century, censorship was achieved through the examination of books, plays, films, television and radio programs, news reports, and other forms of communication for the purpose of altering or suppressing ideas found to be objectionable or offensive. The rationales for censorship have varied, with some censors targeting material deemed to be indecent or obscene; heretical or blasphemous; or seditious or treasonous. Thus, ideas have been suppressed under the guise of protecting three basic social institutions: the family, the church, and the state.”
The free flow of ideas and information in education is the cornerstone of an enlightened society. In order to make good choices and decisions, people need to be informed on the facts, options and consequences. It is very disconcerting that a public school district board member does not know or understand what censorship is, and that redacting is a form of censorship.
In a letter to the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board, urging them to allow science teachers to continue using the district’s honors biology textbook, ACLU of Arizona executive director Alessandra Soler said:
“We can’t let bias and politics dictate what should be discussed in science classrooms…Suppressing facts that some people or organizations find disagreeable sets a terrible precedent. How will the school board say no to the next group that wants some element of a text or curriculum to be removed?” [If Gilbert Public Schools] “remove or censor the biology textbook because school board members disagree with a particular viewpoint expressed, GPS would violate student’s rights under the First Amendment if the U.S. Constitution.”
In addition, the ACLU pointed out that the text book does not violate state law A.R.S section 15-115, governing sex education programs since the law requires sex ed programs–not science classes–to state a preference for childbirth and adoption over abortion. (something else the “educated” board members should have known).
The Gilbert Arizona Public School Board “conservative” tea-party majority is making some bad decisions, and they are making them out of ignorance, ideology politics and lack of knowledge and critical thinking. It is not their job to censor science books, nor is it remotely part of their skill set and expertise. Campbell Biology honors text book is a respected and widely used comprehensive guide to biology. Science is meant to provide all scientific facts, theories and information to educated and allow students to expand their minds, gain knowledge, learn critical thinking and make informed decisions.
Parents have the option to opt out of novels which make up the reading assignments for their kids. However, personal opinions and beliefs, religi0us or otherwise, have no place in science and no place influencing and determining what scientific information will be provided to high school students.
Photo: Enokson /Fliker
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