Arizona School Board Encourages Teachers to Tear Out Pages in Biology Books about Sex

A school district in Arizona recently chose to “edit” an honors biology textbook because they disagreed with certain content. In short, some people thought it was just too free with factual information regarding contraception options. The book in question, Campbell Biology: Concepts & Connections (seventh edition), included a chapter that discussed birth-control options, abstinence, surgical methods to stop reproduction such as vasectomies and tubal ligations, and also drugs that can induce abortion. Out-voted 3-2 through the help of the conservatively religious Alliance Defending Freedom, the members of the board of Gilbert Public Schools chose to go along with a two-year-old state law requiring public schools to “present childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortions.”

According to a November 3 Washington Post article, the school board approved teachers physically tearing out the page from the biology (NOT sex education!) textbook to prevent students from learning about anything other than complete abstinence as the only birth control method that is completely effective.

As an educator, I have an issue with this, not because I support a woman’s choice to decide for herself on birth control and reproduction, nor because this was an honors biology class whose textbook was being censored. I am concerned that the Gilbert School District’s choice is removing an educational opportunity from its students for the sake of appeasing the conservative political agenda, when it could have allowed the students to benefit from an education that addresses their experiences. I am also highly concerned that the school board is allowing groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom to impinge on the universal right for education that “foster[s] peace, democracy and economic growth as well as improving health and reducing poverty,” as the United Nations declares in its initiative, Education for All.

One of the humanist giants in the United States in the late-1800s to early 1900s was John Dewey, whose progressive educational and psychological philosophies are still at work in U.S. education systems today. In his book Experience and Education, Dewey was critical of “traditional” education that emphasized cultural heritage and curriculum, and also of “progressive” education that focused on the interest and impulse of the learner. Dewey rejected regimentation and individualism while drawing the learning process towards the interaction of the learner with what is being learned. To Dewey, for a learning experience to be considered meaningful and educational it needed to move beyond factual knowledge and acquiring new ideas into a process of using facts and ideas in relation to the experiences and perspectives of the learner. When the Gilbert School District’s Board chose to remove the information that they disagreed with, it means that not only did they remove important educational information from the students, but that the outcome of the students’ educative processes would inherently be based on bias.

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen argues that as we have moved into the “information age” and have witnessed the rise of information-intensive industries, it’s easy for anyone to locate information—in this case, information on how to engage in sexual intercourse without conceiving a child. If our students and future citizens (locally, nationally, and globally) are to be fully prepared to take up their places in rapidly-changing societies, they need to be prepared and able to draw from sources of information in order for it to be meaningful to their experiences in life. To withhold age-appropriate factual information from an honors biology class has effectively rendered their education inauthentic, and the students have come away from this experience unable to be fully informed about issues that will impact their future lives. As humanists we hold that “knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis,” and this knowledge can only be known when there is no editing of information that does not meet a special and narrow agenda.