Opinion: Censorship at GHS art show undermines school’s values


Art by Elizabeth Silveira

One of the pieces that was censored in the honors art show last Thursday

CAROLINE ENOS, Staff Writer, Editor

According to the GHS Statement of Purpose, “The mission of Gloucester High School is to produce graduates with integrity, knowledge and skills necessary for productive citizenship.”

The first and most important skill needed to be a productive citizen is knowing how to analyze and discuss issues in our community. To learn how to do this, students have to be able to discuss current sociopolitical issues in GHS peacefully. And for a conversation to start, students have to first be introduced to the topic.

This was the intent of the GHS Honors Art show on Thursday night, where contentious issues ranging from climate change to President Trump were presented in the hallway outside of the auditorium. As one of the honors art students, I was hopeful that our art would start a conversation among students and help open their minds to the world outside GHS.

However, this mission was abruptly hindered when school officials took down two pieces of art. One was an artistic depiction of a marijuana leaf, which the artist covered with a liftable “censored” sign out of respect to the school. The other was a political satire piece showing Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a pot smoker. While neither piece promoted the use of marijuana by students, both were taken down.

Art by Elizabeth Silveira
Censored political satire piece

Other political satire pieces in the show criticized and mocked politicians, yet were allowed to be shown. As were several pieces depicting nudity and graphic animal violence.  So why would the school censor one artist, and not others?

To put this in perspective, I’m not a fan of marijuana. I don’t like the smell, I believe it has more adverse effects than good, and I don’t advise anyone use it unless it is prescribed for medical purposes.

Though I may disagree with this specific subject matter, being exposed to these pieces made me think about this current issue and how it affects me as a voter, as a student, and as an individual, just as good art is supposed to do.

It is fair to say that this art is controversial, however, knowing how to deal with controversy is yet another tool needed for “productive citizenship.”

If students are taught to shield themselves completely from views that disagree with the status quo– to completely shut down a conversation before it starts– our society will lose even more of its already weakened sense of empathy. Not to mention, preventing students from speaking about issues like marijuana in our school makes them more vulnerable to receiving false information from other sources.

While it is true that administration should condemn drug related activity within the school, censoring a depiction of a plant leaf, as in the first piece, just doesn’t make sense. The artist wasn’t encouraging, or promoting the use of marijuana.  And when she did depict someone smoking, it was in a wider political context.

The purpose of this art is not to promote unhealthy, destructive attitudes. However, one purpose of this art is to give the school an opportunity to have healthy discussions with students about a substance that is in the news as a pressing topic for citizens.

If administration sees a student wanting to explore a topic, they should help them do so in a constructive way that fosters the self-driven and inquisitive mindset needed to become an engaged citizen.  This is often reiterated as the most important lesson GHS hopes students learn.

GHS must allow modern day issues to be discussed and debated. GHS must give students the ability to explore their budding perspectives on various issues with a guiding hand. GHS should not allow censorship to be present in its atmosphere, as this promotes a much more one-sided view of the world in the eyes of students.

GHS has fostered students’ rights to free speech in the past; most recently with the walkout on March 15th. For this, the students commend the administration.

However, I would like to stress that the school should not pick and choose which sociopolitical discussions we may have when GHS promotes itself as, first and foremost, a civics minded school.