Censored Classrooms: A Silent Issue

Posters for a Palestine protest | Photo provided by The Daily Pennsylvanian
Posters for a Palestine protest | Photo provided by The Daily Pennsylvanian

The sun rose at exactly 6:24 am on October 7th 2023, and just 6 minutes later, the world was irrevocably changed. In under 20 minutes, Hamas, a grassroots militant group governing Gaza, launched 2,200 rockets into Israel. A demolition was sparked with every blow and spectators from around the globe watched spellbound through their screens as a decades-old occupation set the world ablaze.

On October 12th, the Israeli government announced that they had launched over 6,000 bombs onto Gazan targets within a 5-day week. It was then that the world was brought to a burning point that could not be ignored anymore. 

While most already had at least a vague knowledge of previous disputes between Israel and Palestine, a renewed sense of resolve started to dawn on our nation as we realized that the amount of violence that had been inflicted during the past 5 days was equivalent to the amount of bloodshed other governments had executed over the span of years.

Tensions of this immense humanitarian crisis have flooded our world, seeping into the lives of millions, including youth. We as a race are going through a critical time, and it would seem that the best place to provide an outlet for youth who are hurting and desperate to learn more would be at school, but that has not been the case to date.

Censoring youth from speaking up about mass genocide sounds like a dystopian future, but that future isn’t as far as it seems. We are seeing it happen today in high schools all over Philadelphia.      

A junior at a public high school in the School District was told by admin that students weren’t allowed to produce a project covering the conflict between Israel and Palestine in a Journalism elective offered by the school.

This student said, “It seems strange to offer a journalism class and then censor the voices of the students. School is the place where we, as kids, spend the majority of our time. This is our community, through our friends, through our mentors, through our teachers. And that's where you develop as a person. And if you develop as a person without certain understandings of the world around you… I think it's really important that we try to get our children an education that is all-encompassing and is not discriminatory of what learning takes place in the classroom.”

 This student, along with other students in the elective, understood that the School District has told admin to restrict material being made on this issue out of concern for safety, and they also made the point of not giving in to those who are willing to harm youth for speaking out. “It's not the voices of the students that are causing the harm or would cause the hypothetical harm of endangering other students at the school. It is the actions of others, in disagreement with the voices of the students. And when you cave to the bullies that are out there willing to cause harm to young students for expressing their journalistic inquiry, then that's a slippery slope of, like, going into this idea that we need to cave to others to protect ourselves.” 

This form of censorship is also a violation of the First Amendment. The First Amendment is only restricted at schools if your use of it disrupts school functioning or destroys property, but there are ways to talk about this conflict at school that aren’t harmful and are not only informative but also help students feel seen.

A Jewish-Palestinian Sophomore at another public high school in the School District says, “For the first time since October 7th, I saw an article in a school paper regarding the violence. Through all of this, there have been zero resources brought to my attention and it is a weight that I and every Jewish and Arab student live with on a day-to-day basis. This is the first time anyone has understood or listened to me when I speak out.” 

It is incredibly isolating for students to be in school environments that shut out the rest of the world and put on a false front when for many, entire worlds and families are falling apart. It has been a rare occurrence for schools to take action in offering support, but a private high school in the school district formed an affinity group where students could band together, and a junior at this school attests that there is still more to be done.

In favor of resisting censorship, this student says, “I think it is important for everyone to know about it, and be given platforms to voice their stories.” But even then, a variety of supports, affinity groups being one of them, have not been offered at most high schools.

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Through this lack of support, students who are trying to educate their communities and make others feel heard definitely shouldn’t be silenced. To silence them is to silence the millions who are suffering in Palestine and Israel, and to silence them is to enforce the idea that even the most urgent of issues can be ignored if they aren’t happening right in front of us. When asked about why this issue was important, a senior at a public high school in the School District said, “Why are you censoring this knowledge from coming up?

It's time for this knowledge to come up. I'm Palestinian; this isn't politics for me. For me, this isn't money. For me, this is a matter of whether or not I'm going to see my aunt next year.” Students should not have to endure these horrors without any real support, and it is unforgivable to make their pain invisible. While you read this article, thousands of School District students urge you to let these words cut and take with you the depth of freedom of speech being eradicated.


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