Filter or Freedom

February 16, 2010

 Cutting through the red tape of Internet content filtering legislation madness

Uploaded on February 7, 2010
by navarzo3

Today, Mr.Fischer has a great lesson planned for his 10th  grade students. He has created a video about the scientific method, and uploaded it on to YouTube so that his students could also refer to it from home. After activating his students’ prior knowledge about how science works, Mr.Fischer fires up the LCD projector in order to show his video. Much to his dismay, he is unable to show the video, as he has just learned that that the school filter does not allow him to access YouTube. Once his frustration becomes apparent, one of his 10th graders approaches Mr. Fischer and offers to override the filter so that the YouTube video can in fact be shown. Which of the following would be Mr.Fischer’s best choice?

  1. tell the student to override the filter because the students have the right to have access to such a great resource
  2. tell the student to sit down, then proceed to talk about what the video was going to show, and never create a video for students again.
  3. March over to the technology coordinator or administrator and demand that YouTube be unblocked because he and his students have a right to access that information?

This is a circumstance not uncommon in today’s classrooms and libraries, and this has become a touchy subject. As educators, how do we respect the intellectual freedoms which our children and teachers have rights to, while ensuring their protection from online dangers? Why is it so difficult to uphold these rights? Is there a solution to this battle of protection vs. freedom? And, in the future, is it  possible that we will accomplish both protection AND freedom?

Buzz Words Defined

Intellectual freedom is my ability to access the  information that will help me to solve an information problem or that will help me to have a clearer understanding of what is happening/has happened in our world. This would mean that as a professional, I would have the freedom to create authentic learning experiences for my students. If it is my role now to prepare students for living and learning in the 21st century, is it not my right to be able to access the information and tools necessary to accomplish this? For this to happen in this day and age, I would need access to web2.0 tools like photo and video sharing sites, wikis, and blogs. These tools are available to me at home, but is it fair to assume that all students have the same access at home? If not, is it our responsibility as educators to ensure their personal intellectual freedom rights are fulfilled at school?

As I thought about how I can uphold intellectual freedoms, I also wondered, “in what ways am I NOT upholding these rights?” A censor is, “An official who examines [work] for the purpose of suppressing parts deemed objectionable on moral, political, military, or other grounds,” according to www.dictionary.com. To “deem” something implies passing judgment. My thoughts have always been that I would never censor, but if a situation arose, I would simply act as a discerning professional, weighing the child’s rights with my responsibilities in loco parentis.

According to dictionary.com, the definition of discerning is, “Showing good or outstanding judgment and understanding.”  Based on this definition, I came to the realization that to discern involves judgment, which is defined as forming an opinion. This complicates things further. Is there really a difference between being a discerning professional and being a censor? Technically, no. Any time you are asked to make a judgment or form an opinion, I believe that you bring your past experiences, values, and beliefs to the table. However, there are certain strategies that could be implemented to eliminate subjectivity as much as possible. 

What’s the problem? What’s the cause?

Mary Anne Bell (2008) states in her article, “I’m Mad and I’m Not Gonna Take it Anymore,” that, “laziness combined with paranoia” are what motivates parents to pressure and policy makers to filter and block internet sites. Perhaps, we educators should focus on the root of the paranoia. This root is, most likely, a result of misinformation, and therefore, fear. Perhaps a school with intellectual freedom is one where parent education is just as important as student education. Clarifying the details and intent of the Children’s Internet Protection Act  (CIPA), passed in 2000, would be one way to dispel paranoia (Bell, 2008).

However, my observations have been that much of this paranoia comes not only from parents, but also from teachers. Teachers who feel that their professionalism and decision making are not supported. If you work in a place that is “unsafe”, one becomes more tentative to use technology with the possibility of exposing their students to something that is indecent.

The problem becomes, how do we protect students from, “Internet sewage,” as Davis (2008) describes it, while enabling access to all needed information? And how do we accomplish this while respecting teachers as professionals and ensuring their professional intellectual freedoms…and their jobs?

Possible Solutions?

Perhaps “Over sanitizing the internet,” (Davis, 2008)  is not the most effective solution to ensure that students’ and teachers’ intellectual freedoms are respected. Let us consider for a moment that our teachers are responsible professionals, capable of evaluating web sources and that our students are young people who also have the ability and will inevitably choose to evaluate and, “Discern accurate, appropriate sources of information.” If this is this is the case, then the solution that makes the most sense, is to remove filters altogether. But is this a reality? Given the pressures that parents place on schools to “protect” their children, isn’t it natural that teachers would also want to protect their jobs, and avoid complaints?

If the paranoia and panic we see among many parents regarding the internet, is a result of misinformation, perhaps Don Hall’s (2008) suggestion is the best solution. He says in his article, “Web 2.0: a Virtual Wild, Wild West,” that one of the most important things we need to do is empower parents by providing them with a strong parent education program on internet safety. Being armed with the skills necessary to protect your child and knowing that your child’s teacher also possesses these skills enables a sense of trust.

However, when all is said and done, I tend to agree that, “The best strategy for protecting students online is educating them about Internet citizenship and safety. Young people need to learn about safeguarding their personal information, handling cyber-bullying, reporting and ignoring advances from strangers, avoiding online scams, and being courteous in online communication. They must understand the dangers and consequences of making details of their private lives available to the public. This education needs to happen at home as well as in homerooms, health classes, school assemblies, technology classes and guidance counseling”   (Reich, 2009).

To protect educators and schools in the event that a child does decide to access information that is either illegal or inappropriate according to the school’s moral fibre, schools develop an acceptable use policy (AUP), like the one Doug Belshaw created. The AUP is intended to guide student decision making and ensure that subjectivity plays as small a role as possible when it comes to making information accessible and discerning whether information has been used in an inappropriate way. The AUP would need to be quite specific in order to communicate what exactly the decision makers consider to be inappropriate. Despite the best intentions of AUPs, the Media Awareness Network  “A downside of [these] is that because they emphasize surveillance and control rather than supervision and guidance, they imply an absence of trust in students. But when AUPs are properly designed and implemented, they respect the rights of both child and school – and are certainly less restrictive than filtering software.”

Implications For My Teaching

I have been thinking about how I try to balance my responsibility as a librarian to respect the rights of children with my responsibility as a prudent parent in the absence of parents. As a teacher-librarian, I feel that part of my job is to empower children to choose books that are “just right” (that’s the catch phrase we use in my elementary school). “Just right” is based on individual reading level, interest, need… regardless of the subject. So, the kids are making their own choices about the books that they read. As a parent, I do offer suggestions based on what I think the children will enjoy. While I have never forbidden a child from checking out a book, although this request has been made by parents, am I still censoring by bringing only specific books to that child’s attention? On that note, I now have so much more to consider when it comes time for annual order. Do I have a right to eliminate certain books if we are lacking this information in the library, but I don’t see it as a need of the community I serve? If we don’t physically have information in the library, I need to make sure that I am able to help my students access that information as the need arises. This will most likely be accomplished through the use of online resources…  assuming these resources aren’t blocked by our filter.

I feel like one of our biggest roadblocks to respecting the information rights of children is trust. We struggle to trust children with the responsibility of using information the way it is intended -to clarify, explain, make connections, and entertain. We think that they will abuse information, believe everything they hear, and heaven forbid…make mistakes. Most likely, they will do these things. But, parents’ fear of this reality coupled with teachers’ fear of being persecuted for not protecting students from all that is evil in the world, keeps children from developing the skills they need to coexist in a digital future.  Perhaps it is taking a leap of faith to empower children with the ability to critically evaluate websites and books and then let them loose, filter free. This is definitely a change that would require all adults to be onboard, willing to trust each other and work together to talk to and guide our children as they learn from their mistakes, reap the benefits of their experiences, and access information to make sense of our world.


Abram, Stephen. (January/February 2007).  “Justifying the Social Tools: Improving the Conversation.” Multimedia and Internet@ Schools. Proquest Education Journals. 14;1. Pg.21.

Bell, Mary Ann. (September/October 2008). “I’m Mad and I’m Not Gonna Take it Anymore.” Multimedia and Technology @ Schools. pg.37-39. https://vista4.srv.ualberta.ca/webct/RelativeResourceManager/Template/Topic%203%20Articles/I’m%20Mad%20and%20I’m%20Not%20Gonna%20Take%20It%20Anymore!.pdf 

Davis, Vicki. (Monday, September 21, 2009). “Time to Add a Social Element to our Filtration Systems?”  The Cool Cat Teacher blog. http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/2009/09/time-to-add-social-element-to-our.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+CoolCatTeacherBlog+(Cool+Cat+Teacher+Blog)

Davis, Vicki. (Saturday, March 29, 2008). “Conent Filtration: A Little Dirt for Your Health.”  The Cool Cat Teacher blog. http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/2008/03/content-filtration-little-dirt-for-your.html

Hall, Don. (May, 2008). “Web 2.0: The Virtual Wild Wild West.” Learning and Leading with Technology. pg.26 https://vista4.srv.ualberta.ca/webct/RelativeResourceManager/Template/Topic%203%20Articles/Web%202.0%20A%20Virtual%20Wild%20Wild%20West.pdf

Johnson, Doug. (June 2008). “Change From the Radical Center of Education.” Teacher Librarian. Proquest Education Journals. 35;5. pg.14

Reich, Justin. (July 2009). “In Schools, aa Firewall That Works Too Well.” Washington Post.com  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/10/AR2009071003459.html


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