Censorship - Language Arts- Extend

Discussing Censorship and Its Impact

The topics and activities below further address issues raised in the short stories “The Censors” by Luisa Valenzuela and “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.:

Topic #1:

“Inherit the Wind” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee is a play based on the Scopes Trial (aka “Monkey Trial”) in 1925.

This drama is often misunderstood as a trial about evolution and creationism, when in actuality, the play’s adaptation and the trial’s cornerstone were about freedom of speech. In the “Production Notes by the Playwrights,” Lawrence and Lee state: “Inherit the Wind” is not about the theory of evolution versus the literal interpretation of the Bible. It assaults those who would constrict any human being’s right to think, to teach, to learn. Our major theme is “the dignity of the individual human mind.”

Many of the trial scenes in the play and film are taken directly from the trial transcripts. While the play is not available in e-text form, one of the most important trial scenes from the film (1960) is available online at American Rhetoric: "Henry Drummond Questions Matthew Brady on the Scientific Authority of the Bible."

  1. Students should first develop a working definition of "freedom of expression" that includes every mode or medium they might use. This should be done in small groups and then shared with the whole class to finalize the definition.
  2. After watching the film or reading the script, follow up with a discussion using the following questions:
    • What influences how we think?
    • What regulations, rules, or restrictions affect even our ability to think? For example, how can we have freedom if what we are being told and taught is restricted by authority figures?
    • Do you think what we are taught changes over time? Who decides when it is okay to think something new or different from the past?
    • In the quote, "...it was a time and place when minority opinions were suspect," what is being said?
    • Does it apply to today, especially since 9/11?
    • Why might minority opinions be seen as "suspect," and how might such suspicions limit one's freedom of expression or a minority group's freedom of expression?
    • As Drummond questions Brady about the ability to think and act, Brady states, "Each man is a free agent!" How is a man's or woman's agency--or capacity to exert power--a part of their freedom of expression?
    • At the end of the play, Drummond defends Brady and the freedom to think by angrily pointing out that, "Brady has the same rights as Cates: the right to be wrong!" What is Drummond arguing in this quotation--what does being "right" or "wrong" have to do with freedom of expression or freedom of speech?
    • In this regard, does freedom have a cost or a price, and what is that cost? Who pays the cost? Who reaps the benefits?

Topic #2:

Room for Debate: When Free Speech Feels Wrong

  1. If your school is a one-to-one school, provide students with The New York Times Room for Debate. Otherwise, print and copy each editorial in the series.
  2. Read the introduction to the debate aloud to the entire class. Ask students to hold their opinions for now.
  3. Split the students into six (6) small groups. Distribute the editorials and assign one opinion to each group. Instruct students to read, analyze and share their ideas about the author’s opinion. Encourage the students to discuss in their groups how well the author debates and qualifies his or her argument, using the following questions:
      • What examples or what types of support does the author use?
      • Do they seem valid? Why or why not?
      • Are any exceptions to the author’s argument or any holes in his or her opinion?
  4. Group students into two groups to begin staging a debate. Students should choose who in the group assumes the following roles:
      • Opening Statement (1 student)
      • Major Arguments (2-3 students)
      • Rebuttal (2-3 students)
      • Closing Statement (1 student)
  5. Students from the “All Inclusive Free Speech Position” and “Exceptions for Free Speech Position” should share their readings, notes, examples of support, and valid argumentation.
  6. Encourage students to develop their own examples, using sound and valid reasoning and support.
  7. Students should type or hand-write notes, decide who will open and close the debate, and which students will argue their main points and positions for the debate in next class.
  8. Hand out copies of the Debate Rubric Worksheet to be used during presentations.