The word censorship is a frightening concept in education. One of our roles as Art teachers is to try to make the next generation more open minded, tolerant and respectful of differences, insightful, and creative. The use of overt censorship defeats our ability to do this. We should be creating an environment so that the students themselves know the limits between self- expression and vulgarity, taunting or hurtful acts, or inappropriate behavior. I certainly don't want the next generation of parents (or school administrators for that matter) to be cutting pictures out of art books, or imposing their aesthetic judgments on everyone else. The only way to break the cycle is to instruct students to think critically, to understand their motivations and to develop aesthetic skills.
Having blanket rules for appropriate art is not an approach I use. My standards for appropriateness vary according to the situation or individual. Creating bongs or hash pipes in pottery, or drawing suggestive images for the purpose of titillation I don't accept. I don't tell my students that they are forbidden to do such things, I simply tell them that I don't want to see them, and that the class time that they are with me will be put to more constructive use. I have had students in my photography class take beautiful and meaningful photographs of other recognizable students doing drugs. I have accepted those images for course work and critiqued the merits of the images with the class.
My decision not to display these photographs was conveyed, discussed, and agreed upon by the student artists and the class. The images might have caused embarrassment for the participants, legal problems (drugs are illegal), and caused a disruption of the enjoyment and appreciation of the overall display. The sense of respect for others and sense of social responsibility are not absolute standards, but important values to be incorporated into the curriculum. I do try instill some of my standards on my students.
In discussing Robert Mapplethorp's images, I am careful to use those images that display his talent and insight as a photographer without utilizing his more graphic images. If the students on their own, wish to pursue viewing more of Mapplethorp's images, they are free to do it on their own time with their own resources. To deny that he is an accomplished photographer because he often photographed taboo subjects is wrong. If we put Mapplethorp on the "censored, do not discuss list", how then can one justify a discussion of the life and work of Michelangelo This diatribe has gone on long enough.
I thought in the beginning that I had a brief response to the issue of censorship in the classroom. Censorship is wrong in all occasions, but being appropriate to the existing conditions is not. The gray area is defining what is appropriate, and developing within the class or school or community a reasoned rational consensus and understanding of the concept.