Lessons in Censorship

Lessons in Censorship examines disputes about student speech involving issues including the civil rights movement, war and peace, rights for LGBTs, abortion, immigration, evangelical proselytizing, and the Confederate flag. Catherine J. Ross argues that the failure of schools to respect civil liberties betrays their educational mission and threatens democracy. Throughout, Ross proposes ways to protect free expression without disrupting education. Placing battles over student speech in their social and historical context, Ross highlights the growing tendency of schools to clamp down on off-campus speech such as texting and sexting and reveals how well-intentioned measures to counter verbal bullying and hate speech may impinge on constitutionally protected speech.

From the 1940s through the Warren years, the Supreme Court celebrated free expression and emphasized the role of schools in cultivating liberty. But the Burger, Rehnquist, and Roberts courts retreated from that vision, curtailing certain categories of student speech in the name of order and authority. Ross shows how some contemporary judges either misunderstand the law or decline to rein in censorship that is clearly unconstitutional. Lessons in Censorship brings clarity to a bewildering array of lower court rulings that define the speech rights of young citizens in the school setting and powerfully demonstrates the continuing vitality of the Supreme Court’s initial affirmation of students’ expressive rights.

“We teach our children to celebrate freedom of speech but what freedom do they have when their schools too often punish them for exercising it? Catherine Ross’s powerful and lucid exposé of the increasingly routine censorship of student speech is well worth our attention and concern.” 

Floyd Abrams
Cahill Gordon & Reindel, LLP

“A magnificent book. Catherine Ross has given us a beautifully written and original contribution to our understanding of the nexus of constitutional law, lower courts, and everyday life in our public schools. She persuasively demonstrates that schools and judges too often teach ‘lessons in censorship’ that threaten the First Amendment and our vital culture of democracy.”

Erwin Chemerinsky
University of California, Irvine School of Law

Available From