Banned Books Bring a Broader View on Censorship


If you have recently been in the STEM Center you have definitely seen Miss Mandel’s Banned Books display (though it’s now been replaced by Halloween). The books on top of the shelves all represented a celebration of literary works that have been restricted from students in schools and city libraries for various reasons ranging from talking animals to sexual content.

At ODA, however, many of these banned books are part of the curriculum. Students know the depravity of the Lord of the Flies, the racism of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the debauchery of the Great Gatsby, and adulterous scandal of The Scarlet Letter.

But does all this open access to scandalous classics mean that ODA is free of censorship? Some might say no. Though English classes may read a wide range of texts we are not a community free from censorship.

While ODA English students may perceive that ODA does not censor students, consider the school policy on dress code, the firewall on the internet, and student publications.

Some say that the ever-evolving dress code policy is an  example of the school’s censorship. This policy has been in place for several years.

“The dress code reflects who we think we are as an institution and how we want to be seen,” says Upper School Assistant Division Head, Mr. Seldis.

“When people come to visit our school, we want them to see ODA students as ready to learn, neat, refined and very clean cut. Even though ODA has a dress code, students still have room to express their “individuality,”  Mr. Seldis states.

Many students, however, feel that the dress code censors them from expressing who they really are and exercising free choice in how they want to present themselves.

Sophomore, Ani Kapreilian wishes she can wear band shirts that represent what she likes such as Five Seconds of Summer, All Time Low, Sleeping with Sirens, and Twenty One Pilots. 

“I don’t see what’s wrong with wearing the things that students as public schools can wear,” says junior Quinn Birmingham.

Yet another way censorship exists in ODA is in access to some websites. 

Both Quinn and sophomore Zach Wells cited the school’s internet firewall that stops students from using certain websites, thereby censoring some content. Senior M’balia Bangoura notes, however, an increasing internet freedom at ODA. She says certain websites that used to be blocked but are no longer such as Soundcloud and Spotify.

Mr. Leicht, Director of Technology, explains that students encounter a firewall when it comes to certain websites because it is required for the school because of a law called CIPA, The Children’s Internet Protection Act. According to the Federal Communication Commission, CIPA was enacted by Congress in 2000 to protect students from certain websites that are either obscene or harmful for students. Students can appeal blocked websites to Mr. Leicht who can assess if those particular websites need to be limited or not. 

Other examples of censorship can be found in content publishing decisions for school press and content in clubs.

Recent alumna Jordan Towsley (2015) wrote an article in 2012 for this student newspaper about teen dating habits, but it was censored because of content deemed too mature for younger readers.

Mr. Lemieux,  Head of the English department tells another time when content was censored from the student Book Club, a read and discuss group on campus.

Mr. Seldis has asked that Book Club share a list of proposed books that they would like to read to make sure that content is age appropriate. This request surprised the Book Club who felt that their decisions about content were being censored.

“I would encourage students in the club to be excited about reading and open to discussing anything they want to read. As an English teacher, we are always excited to hear about what students want to read,” says club advisor Mr. Lemieux.

Lemieux hopes to be able to have group discussions about student choices rather than have choices be eliminated altogether.

Censorship exists in many forms and is a part of everyday school life from what students can access on the internet to what students can wear to content in what we write and read.

Although ODA is a school that is open to a wide range of content, some still note that censorship in some form still exists. And while ODA continues to present a environment that is mostly free, students and teachers are still required to follow guidelines for content selection where not everything is allowed.