Doug Johnson, author of the Blue Skunk blog, emailed me this tip for my IT Guy column for Technology and Learning regarding district policies on website blocking. He wrote:
Districts need to have a process in place for determining which websites are blocked and which are not, just as they now have a process in place for dealing with materials challenges.
Without a process in place, the district will not be able to justify its choices of what is blocked and what is not. Today the request might be to block MySpace; tomorrow the request might be to block sites on evolution, homosexuality, the Republican Party, and on it goes…
For a more complete examination of this issue, take a look at: “Maintaining Intellectual Freedom in a Filtered World,” Leading and Learning with Technology, May 2005 or http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/if.pdf
Doug’s perspective on Internet filtering in schools is worth reading in its entireity. This quotation from the initial section of his article will give you a flavor for his views:
The potential of student access to unsavory and possibly unsafe materials on the Internet had made support of intellectual freedom extremely challenging. It is difficult to justify a resource that allows the accidental viewing of graphic sexual acts by second-graders searching for innocuous information, communication by anorexic teens with supportive fellow anorexics, or access by seventh graders to “Build Your Own Computer Virus” websites. Defending unfiltered Internet access was quite different from defending The Catcher in the Rye. But just because something is difficult, does not make it wrong.
Happily, the sky has not fallen since we installed our filter. The complaints about over-blocking and underblocking from teachers and students have numbered less than a dozen since 2001. I was surprised in light of what I had been hearing from media specialists in other school districts who complained about the filters and filtering policies in their districts.
This result from an EFF 2002 study included by Doug was very interesting to me:
* Schools that implement Internet blocking software with the least restrictive settings will block between .5% and 5% of search results based on state-mandated curriculum topics.
* Schools that implement Internet blocking software with the most restrictive settings will block up to 70% of search results based on state-mandated curriculum topics.
How restrictively are websites filtered in your own school district? The answer might surprise you.
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