I don’t like Internet filters

I don’t like Internet filters, and not just because many folks can’t read my blog (thanks, Mark!).

I don’t like them because they impede political awareness (see, e.g., Andy Carvin’s fantastic post on this).

I don’t like them because in order to exercise one’s right to free speech one also must have access to speech:

[T]he Constitution protects the right to receive information
and ideas. This right is an inherent corollary of the rights of free
speech and press that are explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution. . . . The dissemination of ideas can accomplish
nothing if otherwise willing addressees are not free to receive
and consider them. It would be a barren marketplace of ideas that
had only sellers and no buyers. . . .
More importantly, the right to receive ideas is a necessary predicate
to the recipient’s meaningful exercise of his own rights of speech,
press, and political freedom.
[Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School Dist. v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982)]

And I don’t like them because of the message they send to students: in an information economy, we don’t trust you with information.

12 Responses to “I don’t like Internet filters”

  1. You’ll like them after having to stand in front of a parent and try to explain why their student has access to pornography in school. Free speech is one thing, protecting children is another.

    Filters for adults is another matter.

  2. Or we could appropriately supervise students’ computer usage…

  3. Are you saying that a teacher should periodically walk behind each student’s desk to see what they’re doing with their computer?

  4. You mean MBWA? Management By Walking Around? Perish the thought! It would mean getting up from my desk!

    Sigh. Big sigh. In my lab, MBWA is a necessity because the kids are all involved in different projects. Its something called Synergistics (http://www.synergistic-systems.com/) that I am VERY excited about! I can’t wait for my new job to start in a couple weeks!

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Few would disagree with blocking pornography, but the vast majority of what is blocked is not pornographic. Instead, tools like wikis, blogs, and content sharing sites are blocked. Would we block the use of paper and pencil because it could be used to draw or write bad things?

    In addition to monitoring students, we need to teach them responsibility and smart work habits. As a business owner, I see the workforce reflecting the consequences of blocking in lieu of teaching good habits. I worry about the lack of critical thinking skills and good judgement that results.

  6. IMO those who don’t like filters have never or have seldom been in a classroom with 20 some kids on computers at the same time. I don’t care how watchful the teacher is it’s possible for a web savvy kid to be into and out of an undesirable site while the teacher is helping another student or teaching. Is that not our job? To say that this can be cured by monitoring students is unrealistic and impossible in today’s classroom. I could branch out into a diatribe about the lack of teaching responsibility at home now days, but I won’t go into the fact that the schools are now expected to do far more then teach the 3 R’s.

  7. Okay, so we’re in some disagreement about how difficult it is to supervise a classroom of students all using the computer at the same time. Management solutions include filtering software, effective supervision, and desktop display software (i.e., the teacher can see each kids’ screen from her computer).

    Anyone want to talk about the three bigger philosophical issues that I allude to in my post (i.e., political awareness, access to speech, the lack of an information economy mindset)? Or is it all just about management and supervision?

  8. It’s all about point of view.

    For tech specialists who don’t have to teach students and are not accountable for student behaviors, it’s easy to be philosophical and point out what others are not doing. (I’m in this category- so no unfair criticism for this group, but we do have the benefit of a certain level of “distance” being out of the classroom. And for those not in a school, the distance is even greater.)

    For teachers who have to teach and are managing their learning and their behaviors, it is very difficult to manage a classroom without the help of filters and monitoring software. Students are too quick and are good at hiding what they are doing (removing the toolbar to hide which program they are on is my favorite trick, and I’ve seen the best teachers not being able to catch this, and even visiting administrators.) And let’s face it, kids will be kids, and will do silly things to test the boundaries from time to time.

    So, one’s job will influence one’s viewpoint about this issue.

    There are larger philosophical issues to debate and from an idealistic point of view, better practices are needed, but until better tools and accountability guidelines are in place, I’ll support the teachers in the classroom, because when it comes to teaching students and an administrator’s job of providing a safe environment, it is about management and supervision- because without those, no learning will occur.

    BTW- I hate filters also- but I’ll live with it in the meantime.

  9. Scott – in regards to your three philosophical issues, I would offer the following.

    Pico is about intellectual freedom and was centered around school libraries. The Internet is “kinda” like a school library with one very important distinction – in our library, some process of selection occurs prior to the purchase process. We select based upon providing a broad range of viewpoints on a variety of topics, but there are materials we would not select as some would be illegal to do so (pornography being the most obvious example), and some just not advisable (like books on sexual fetishes to be placed into an elementary library).

    So while intellectual freedom is hugely important, and there are some very real issues about how filters are poorly implemented in schools, I don’t dislike the filters themselves. At some level, they provide a component of protection. I hate to even use the term protection as it implies some level of reliability, which I have belief of reliability.

    I think the issue of impeding political awareness is not a filter issue, but an implementation issue as well. If a district determined to only block sites deemed pornographic (I know, I know, “deemed by whom?”, would it still impede political awareness?

    Trust…? I’d like to say I trust students with information implicitly, but I am not sure I can. As an example… I am our district’s director of technology, and our technology committee handles requests for changes to filtering policy. Every year, Google Images is brought to me by an administrator who dislikes what some students do with Google Images. We provide them with data that shows most searches seem to be at best, school-related and in a worst case scenario, completely recreational. But, a small percentage of students seek out images clealy looking for nudity, images of sex (sometimes with animals), and other images which I would have a hard time saying we should waste our bandwidth on. This is a small portion of students and it seems to come an go in waves.

    We’ve elected to continue the use of Google Images, but I have to admit, these issues become harder each year when we start to see some of the “mixed” content sites. Youtube certainly is not helping as they cannot even keep up with enforcing their own policies (watch how long it takes for them to address people who post in violation of their policies).

    Is it possible that the dislike of filtering isn’t so much about the idea of filtering as it is about the poor implementation and decision-making structures wrapped around it?

  10. Thank you Scott. In several of my posts I refer to it as “modern-day bookburning.”

    In my neck of the woods, it is an issue of money. We spend a lot of money on computers, the last thing we would want is for the network to be jeopardized by a potential virus from all those evil sites out there. We outsource the filtering to people who are not education based. We don’t trust our teachers to make professional decisions on the value of a website. Therefore, the equipment (which is basically useless for seeking information) is more important than the students.

    I’m sure we will soon buy more equipment to restrict the flow of information…since we just purchased an additional 200 computers for our system.

    In response to Mr. Waggoner [above] why can we not teach children how to be responsible, demonstrate to parents that we are responsible, and educate instead of regulate? It’s not that difficult. We’ve had more problems with inappropriate websites once we started using filters to block sites. Why? Two reasons: a) teachers felt a false security that the filters will catch anything that is bad, so they quit MBWA, and b) students were unintentionally given a true educational challenge…how can we learn to get around the filter?

  11. “Anyone want to talk about the three bigger philosophical issues that I allude to in my post (i.e., political awareness, access to speech, the lack of an information economy mindset)?”

    The Children’s Internet Protection Act was not intended to stifle any of the philosophical issues at hand, but it has been taken as an excuse to block anything the “person-in-charge-of-the-filter” feels like. In my district, where I reside as the “net nazi” I’m doing my best to leave as much open as possible while still blocking pornography and malicious web sites (you know, the ones that install trojans, etc.).


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