Freedom of speech has been a hot topic this week, but what hasn’t been so widely talked about is censorship. In a way censorship is the opposite of freedom of speech, because when you refrain from speaking freely you are censoring yourself.
It seems that often the things that are censored are important. For example, banned books. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was once banned for its use of coarse language. To Kill a Mockingbird has an incredibly important message about prejudice, race, and acceptance, but these valuable messages were censored.
Last year my school board was seriously considering implementing an internet filter for all schools because some young students had stumbled upon inappropriate content. My school embraces 21st century learning and technology, so once our teachers told us about this proposed internet filtering, students flocked to the board website to leave comments expressing our opinion.
I was so proud of my peers for their responses, and for sticking up for freedom of speech and against censorship. Another student and I were asked to speak at the board meeting where the board members would be voting on whether or not to take action on the filter. After we gave our speech, board members had a chance to ask us questions.
We had been told that there probably wouldn’t be any questions, so when a board member’s hand shot into the air my heart rate skyrocketed. The question was about internet filtering for just younger students, and I started off my response by saying that I didn’t believe censorship for any age was the answer.
This experience definitely taught me the value in standing up for what I believe in – even when you’re trying to convince a group of adults. With specific regard to what happened this week, I know some people have been blaming the Charlie Hebdo magazine (saying that they shouldn’t have published the offending cartoons in the first place).
The magazine posted controversial cartoons about everything – if they had decided not to post in the manner that they did, they would be censoring themselves. Freedom of speech exists for a reason; to use it.
What are your thoughts?
We are fortunate to have been raised in Canada, during the digital era where any information we may need is available to us at the click of a button. This freedom should be treasured and not taken for granted.
Internet filters at school seem to be a different matter. Last year, I was doing a project on Nazi concentration camps in the Second World War. While doing the research portion of this project, I made a surprising discovery. Every time I tried searching something with the keyword “Nazi”, a blocked page notice popped up. I asked my teacher how I could do my research on the Second World War without being able to use a word crucial to this topic. He was just as frustrated as I was, and suggested I finish the project at home. In this case, internet filters were harmful to my education; not helpful.
The counter argument made by many school officials is, as you mentioned previously, students may use a lack of internet “censorship” to search things that may be inappropriate. In the case of some elementary and junior high schools, filters might be put in place to prevent the discovery of things that could be “harmful” to young people (pornography, for example). In my opinion, it is better for a young person to see these things in a supportive environment where they can ask questions, in order to understand what they’re seeing and how to deal with it in the future.
Throughout history, books and other published works have been censored for reasons somewhere along the lines of not being suitable for readers. I agree that some of the material published by Charlie Hebdo and his colleagues could be considered offensive, however when we take away the writer’s freedom of expression we lose an environment where we learn to view everything critically and not as an absolution.
Together we can ensure that censorship becomes a thing of the past, and freedom of speech continues to be a part of our present and future.