Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Amidst K12Online07 launch, content control wars rage on in schools

Taylor the Teacher notes with sadness that after waiting weeks to finish start of school standardized testing / benchmark testing with students, learners of all ages awoke to a new content filter at school that blocks virtually ALL web 2.0 / read/write web content sites:

District installed new Internet filter today because the other one was too much like we lived in a democracy. All blogs, including my own class blog and all student blogs on blogspot are blocked. I mean, we can’t have kids WRITING every day! What would the world come to?

I’m with you Taylor, I really am. How can we thrive in a world of ideas when thousands of mouths are being duct-taped shut by school officials and board members? We can’t.

Taylor pointed me to Doug Johnson’s outstanding recent post “It’s called Intellectual Freedom,” where he wrote:

In choosing to block YouTube, you [the school administrator] are a censor. You violate your staff’s and students’ intellectual freedom, their rights to view. By arbitrarily blocking other sites, you are violating your staff’s and students’ right to read. You are denying them their rights accorded by the First Amendment.

As I wrote about again last week, I’m aware of the security risks latent in permitting user access to webmail, USB flash drives, etc. But the point many school districts have moved to with content filtering is totally ridiculous and totally unacceptable. As Doug writes, this DOES violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. Would we tolerate this same sort of heavy-handed censorship in the library? Why should we tolerate it on the network? We shouldn’t.

I find all of these events quite ironic, given the launch of the 2007 K-12 Online Conference today which focuses entirely on the use of web 2.0 tools for learning. The question I want to ask school administrators (and I actually DID ask over the past two weeks as I shared 9 seminars about E-rate around the state of Oklahoma) was/is: “Why do you want to purchase technology and have access to the Internet?”

The fact is, many administrators (admittedly in my limited frame of reference) don’t have a good answer to this question. In attempting to maintain traditional models of instruction in schools, administrators see little value in Internet connectivity other than as a CONDUIT OF CONTENT from the outside world into the minds of learners at school. Websites permitting user-created content strike fear into the hearts of administrators in many school districts. Let students have access to virtual microphones on the global stage? Lindsey’s speech in this Ad Council video personifies the types of use many adults expect of students on the web, yet cyberbullying is not the predominant way most students are using interactive media sites.

I REALLY enjoyed watching and listening to David Warlick’s preconference keynote for K-12 Online this year. His metaphor of the airport and airplanes to learning, compared to the “rails of learning” he discussed in last year’s keynote, resonated with me on multiple levels.

Having about 60 hours of fixed-wing flight time myself and some knowledge of airspace regulations, after hearing David discuss aircraft, learning, and “boundaries” I immediately thought of the differences between controlled versus uncontrolled airspace.

aircraft taking off

Airspace classes vary by country, but essentially delimit the space over the earth into different categories where special rules apply to aircraft and the pilots who fly them. Uncontrolled airspace (according to ICAO definitions) include Class F and Class G airspace:

Class F: Operations may be conducted under IFR or VFR. ATC separation will be provided, so far as practical, to aircraft operating under IFR. Traffic Information may be given as far as is practical in respect of other flights.
Class G: Operations may be conducted under IFR or VFR. ATC separation is not provided. Traffic Information may be given as far as is practical in respect of other flights.

Uncontrolled, Class F or Class G airspace flight rules contrast markedly with the highly regimented rules of Class A and Class B airspace:

Class A: All operations must be conducted under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) or Special visual flight rules (SVFR) and are subject to ATC clearance. All flights are separated from each other by ATC.
Class B: Operations may be conducted under IFR, SVFR, or Visual flight rules (VFR). All aircraft are subject to ATC clearance. All flights are separated from each other by ATC.

In many U.S. schools today, if we think of the virtual learning space being the Internet and its associated websites, essentially everything is “controlled airspace.” Few schools permit any “Class F” or “Class G” access to the web for students or for teachers.

As a learner and knowledge worker, I not only crave uncontrolled airspaces for virtual learning, I require them to do my work as well as participate in many of my hobbies. I think the NEED learners have for uncontrolled virtual space is entirely lost on at least some IT directors, school administrators, and district board members. The constitutional right which we have as citizens of the United States to free expression within reasonable limits, as highlighted by Doug Johnson, may be an aspect of this entire discussion over network security and content filtering which many have not considered. Doug cites the definition of “Intellectual Freedom” from the Amercian Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom website:

Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.

Have school officials where you lived received this memo? Perhaps it is time they did.

The operating assumption of many emails I see regularly from companies helping schools manage their networks and Internet access is: “Our role is to serve you by locking down the virtual learning environment available to your teachers and students as much as we can. We care not for intellectual freedom, collaboration potentials or capacities for creativity. Rather, we exist to empower you to control and limit learner behavior. Shrouded in the misleading cape of CIPA, we aim to render your school network and thousands just like it (purchased with billions of tax dollars from U.S. consumers and citizens) useless for anything but school district email access and basic web surfing of a limited number of static pages. Blogs? Wikis? YouTube? Every type of user-created content is considered evil incarnate by our content filters. We exist to support your efforts to get your students to sit down, shut up, listen to teacher lectures, take multiple choice tests with paper and pencils, and take notes for eight hours every weekday.”

I saw an email recently from one company, essentially bragging that all the latest proxy sites announced by the state department of education had already been blocked/shut down by its existing content filter. Readers of the email were actually expected to be HAPPY about this situation.

I spoke with a teacher last week whose school district was recently awarded statewide recognition as a top technology district. In this same district, ALL blogs are blocked and all teachers as well as students are STRICTLY FORBIDDEN from visiting or using any blogs on school computers. This is a situation similar to that of Taylor the Teacher, which I cited at the start of this post. To propose that student literacy could improve by blogging in this school district might be seen as analogous to proposing that students be required to worship Satan with song and dance after they say the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. I am not exaggerating much here. This teacher had FEAR in her heart, placed there by administrators of this award-winning and recognized “technology-leading” school district, when the word “blog” was even mentioned.

My 9 year old is about three-fourths of the way finished reading J.K. Rowling’s delightful fifth book in the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” If you have read the book or seen the movie, you doubtless remember the character Delores Umbridge:

Dolores Umbridge

Metaphorically speaking, it is as if Umbridge has become the administrator of many U.S. school networks. Rather than empower and support students in their quest for knowledge and skills, Umbridge constantly sought ways to control student behavior, limit their freedom, an add to an ever-growing list of rules posted in the corridors of Hogwarts.

Where are Fred and George when we need them? Where is Dumbledore? Who will provide the leadership and magic required to free our schools from the tyranny of Delores Umbridge and her mandates for controlled airspace on the networks of our schools?

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17 responses to “Amidst K12Online07 launch, content control wars rage on in schools”

  1. Robert Hulse Avatar
    Robert Hulse


    I have read with great interest this developing thread. Most of what you write I agree with (excepting the hyperbole and exaggeration for effect). What seems to be sorely lacking, however, is any attempt at solving the problems that the “Nazi-esque administrators” (your theme, not mine) have to solve when implementing tech-related instructional options. For instance…

    1. The social networking phenomenon now firmly entrenched in our youth culture HAS a PROFOUNDLY destructive component. I would refer you, as but one example, to a recent story on wherein the story of the filming of an autistic child being beaten by his MIDDLE SCHOOL classmates was told. YouTube? Most (or at least a substantial portion) of it is bull*&% and idiots – plagarized and vulgarized junk all made in the name of “social networking” (translated: LOOK AT ME!). Why would anyone carry a video camera to tape a beating? So he (or in this case, she) can upload it to YouTube (or any of the other video collection sites). I would suggest that your dismissive comment on the prevalence of cyber-bullying is woefully naive. Of course, many students are able to use these tools effectively and responsibly. But when it goes wrong, it goes WAY wrong. This isn’t your school-yard, stand-in-front-of-someone-to-beat-the-hell-out-of-them kind of bullying. It’s easy and available to anyone who is computer-savvy. Web 2.0 has wonderfully redeeming features. But it seems simplistic and silly to allow unrestricted and unfiltered access through our school networks. So how do you achieve the goals you espouse and still provide for the “dark side” – recognizing the hair-trigger litigious society in which we live?

    2. The use and integration of technology (especially computers, and especially laptops) takes an extraordinary amount of work to both master and maintain. Our school has had laptops since opening 10 years ago and even with the more limited numbers in that program, vigilance and problem-solving have to occur every single day of school – every single day. Schools must invest substantial dollars in equipment, software, and training in order to best use technology. None of this substantial investment includes accounting for the monitoring and “fixing” of the problems listed in point #1 above. Are you personally willing to pay more in taxes to “do the job right”? Most adults I know in the U.S. are not.

    3. The final point is perhaps more subtle – this is NOT about YOU (or ME or ANY OTHER ADULT) or our “intellectual freedoms” or our ability to use and leverage Web 2.0 tools. Let me repeat – too many adults I have heard (including many at the Learning 2.0 conference in Shanghai) are projecting their needs and wants onto a population of young folks that have no clue about what freedom means. This is further indicated in your comment…

    “As a learner and knowledge worker, I not only crave uncontrolled airspaces for virtual learning, I require them to do my work as well as participate in many of my hobbies. I think the NEED learners have for uncontrolled virtual space is entirely lost on at least some IT directors, school administrators, and district board members.”

    I would expect this from adults – it is both fair and fitting. But adults in societies impose limits every day – no student is going to grow up in a totally unrestricted environment (you didn’t nor did I) and it seems, again, silly to both want and work toward this. As I tried to point out to those who maintain that “children are smarter than we are” – students have great imaginations (too often crushed under the weight of un-thoughtful restrictions and limits) and are willing (and able) to put in the time required to become technologically competent. But that doesn’t mean they are smarter nor does it warrant their unrestricted access to anything THEY deem (in their naive and limited experience) to be interesting, cool, or whatever other term they choose to use.

    I, for one, applaud administrators and parents who still see it as their responsibility to walk with students through the muck and slime that is shoved in their faces – in appropriate and carefully considered stages. You and I agree on many of the points that frustrate both learners and those helping them. Standardized testing is but the most convenient dead horse to flog. But content filtering is necessary. Restrictions and limits are necessary. We may disagree on the extent and manner in which they are implemented, but surely we would agree on their presence?

    As I said before, most of what you write I agree with. But this thread is becoming increasingly hostile and combative in tone and content. Of course, you have the “right” to express your opinions (one the precious freedoms not enjoyed everywhere in the world). However, we live TOGETHER in this world and it seems rather counterproductive (albeit characteristically Western) to demonize one’s opponent in the interest of being “disruptive”.

    Surely, in all of the rhetoric, there is a way forward? I would be intensely (and sincerely) interested in hearing your solutions to the problems…and will stand publicly corrected for mis-characterizing or misunderstanding your positions.

    Best regards,


  2. Carolyn Foote Avatar


    Brilliant analogy. I’ve been thinking we need to sponsor an “Intellectual freedom week”
    around the education blogs, as I posted at the Fischbowl, where Karl has been discussing
    this issue as well, and draw some organized attention to this issue.

    Maybe once K12online is over a group of us could talk about this idea?

    I was envisioning something similar to the Sunshine week that journalists participated in a couple
    of years ago, to highlight unbiased and free reporting.

    I’m going to flesh out this idea on my blog soon, but would love to know what you think.

    Thanks for the excellent insights.

  3. Tina Steele Avatar

    Wes. I am in total agreement, except for one thing. The blame should not be on administrators, but the government. I work hard to get e-rate funding, as you know. This year I have received well over $450,000. This is critical to our school. But in turn, I must follow the CIPA laws which require that I provide content filtering. I get frustrated every time that I can’t access YouTube. However, there are some inappropriate things that YouTube has on its sight that I can’t allow students to see. Therefore, I must block YouTube. The same is true with Flicker. I absolutely hate that I have to block anything! I think, in fact, that students should have to learn how to filter themselves. However, the school needs this funding for our infrastructure. As an administrator, we are doing what is best for our school and the students. We are providing them an education. We are choosing the less of two evils. Either we provide the hardware and equipment. or we lose the funding for our internet access and network infrastructure. It makes me extremely sad. It’s governmental control, write your congressmen and women.

  4. Carolyn Foote Avatar


    That’s great about the e-rate funding and how it helps your campus. However, the law applies to
    students, not staff.

    One thing we’ve done at our campus is that staff and students are filtered differently. So staff
    can show an educational “YouTube” video in class, but students don’t have access. While that isn’t
    ideal, by providing teachers access to more web 2.0 tools–we indirectly give students the ability
    to use them with teacher supervision and discretion.

    The law actually specifies that you should be able to disable the filter for teachers “at point
    of need”, which means it has to be disabled quickly, not through a long process.

    So it does provide for instructional uses for teachers.

    I think sometimes we get into either/or thinking about this, when maybe there are some
    compromises available to us under the law.

  5. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Tina: I disagree that you have to block Flickr and YouTube at school. CIPA does NOT mandate this. CIPA and E-Rate require that schools have a policy for content filtering and that they enforce it, but it does not specify a blacklist that schools must block. I agree that many mandates coming down from the government contribute significantly to the cultures we have and see in schools: High stakes punitive testing is another example. But in this case, the school DOES have local autonomy in theory to set their own content filtering policies. Practically speaking, many schools turn their content filtering over to companies and just let them manage blacklists. However, I want to point out that the law does NOT mandate blocking certain websites. The law does not even specify that schools must block proxy sites. As I’ve written previously, the level of censorship here in many U.S. schools is more severe than that in communist China, which has a completely undemocratic and totalitarian government. This should be a wake up call for us.

    Unfortunately the conservative way to approach content filtering in most schools is to say “block everything we can.” I think that is the wrong approach, and that approach is NOT required by the law. We have to help our students become the filter themselves, and have environments which support accountability for all behavior that takes place both face-to-face and in virtual spaces. This is certainly challenging, but it is what we need to be doing in schools. I’d encourage your school district leaders and teachers to take the responsibility for helping monitor what students do online and the choices they make when they are there. If students are choosing to view videos that are inappropriate at school, then they should face a consequence for that just like they would if they brought an inappropriate magazine to class and caused a disruption with it. At a minimum, schools should provide less filtered Internet access for teachers compared to students. This can be done with VLANs and the login teachers make to the district LDAP or active directory server. We have two districts in Oklahoma that I know of doing this now, Tulsa and Enid. All our schools should be doing this. Systems need to be in place where student online activities are documented with virtual breadcrumbs: All their virtual footprints on the school network are logged. Will kids use proxy sites to bypass those controls. Of course. If they do and they use the web to access inappropriate materials, then they should face consequences. Right now, most of the schools I work in aren’t doing these things. They are blocking virtually the entire read/write web, and saying as you have here, “the government makes us do it.” That is not true. Our government does not make your school block pbwiki or wikispaces. Our government does not make you block WikiPedia or other blog sites. Most content filtering programs have an option, that many administrators leave checked, to block all blogs because they are personal websites. That is ridiculous and must change.

    Thanks for raising this issue. Please don’t take this as me jumping on you personally, I am VERY glad you’ve commented on this and shared your view. I think it is critical to clarify, in this case however, just what the government is “requiring” and what school officials are CHOOSING to do with network content filtering. We can’t blame the feds for this one.

  6. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Robert: Thanks for your insights and sharing your perspectives. Certainly my purpose is not to be combative but rather constructive, hence I want to engage in this conversation with you and others.

    First a point of clarification. I differ with some in that I AM an advocate of some content filtering, and certainly and advocate for boundaries when it comes to student discipline as well as personal living. I think CIPA is well intentioned, provides considerable autonomy for schools, and is a good law. I’m not advocating for the repeal of CIPA here. As Carolyn points out and I echo, CIPA does not mandate the level of content filtering we see happening now in schools. At one level, school administrators and other stakeholders need to acknowledge this and not “blame the government,” and secondly need to look at “ways forward” as you mention.

    I will address your points in order as you shared them.

    1. Cyberbullying absolutely is a reality and a problem. People make bad choices all the time. Unfortunately, in many cases those “bad examples” of web use are amplified by the mainstream media to the point where people start to think those behaviors characterize MOST students.

    That is why I linked in this post (and elsewhere) the Grunwald research report “Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social and Educational Networking” commissioned by the National School Boards Association. (Here is a direct link to the full report in PDF format.) Now, granted this is just one research report and we can’t take it’s sample results and generalize with 100% certainly to the entire population. However, I think that report supports my contention here, and that’s why I cited it. We need to operate on more than our own perceptions, we should look at research being done which looks overall at student uses of social media and interactive technologies. MOST kids are not taking video cameras out and taping beatings so they can put them on YouTube. But unfortunately, some are. That research supports my point, which is why I linked it to the statement in my post above “yet cyberbullying is not the predominant way most students are using interactive media sites.”

    I am presenting on cyberbullying prevention and safe digital social networking more than on any other topic at conferences I attend. I’ll be at MOREnet in Osage Beach, Missouri next Monday and Tuesday, and my Tuesday closing session is on that topic. I do not want to minimize the reality or problems which cyberbullying presents, but I do want to help people understand these behaviors in propoer context outside the often sensationalist media coverage.

    Doug Johnson’s thinking along these lines is outstanding. The number one article I encourage everyone to read on this topic is his piece, “A Proposal for Banning Pencils.” As the subtitle of his article states:

    Ex abusu non arguitur in usum.
    (The abuse of a thing is no argument against its use.)

    2. You are absolutely right that effective, ethical, and responsible use of digital technologies and integration of technologies into the learning process is HARD, takes a great deal of effort, takes substantial professional support, and costs money. We spend over $10,000 per child (on average) in the United States for public education. Am I willing to spend more personally? Absolutely. I’d certainly rather see us spend more money on education than in sustaining our war effort in Iraq. I support our troops and absolutely support a strong national defense infrastructure / troop force structure, but I don’t think anyone should have a blank check.

    Schools absolutely DO need to reallocate resources to adequately support the use of digital tools for learning. In the 20th and previous centuries, this wasn’t needed. It is now. Research and experience shows us how vital just in time support is for effective teaching and learning with digital tools. Schools need to be implementing programs like Gen-Yes to provide everyone in the learning environment with the support they need. In quantiative terms, students are our most plentiful resource when it comes to technology support. We need to stop fighting the kids– not stop having boundaries and enforcing discipline– but stop fighting them on basic issues of information access- and instead engage them on our teams that are supporting learners at all levels.

    3. If kids don’t have any idea what freedom means, then it is our obligation as educators and adults in our communities to help them understand. That doesn’t mean just giving them a lecture. How do we help students understand what freedom means, and the price that has been paid many times over to enjoy and maintain our freedoms?

    One way is through personal interviews with veterans and digital storytelling. The main way is through sustained conversations and relationships with others. Are our students connected with others who have had to fight for freedom? Are our students connected with others who experience very different opportunities because of their government as well as their culture?

    I am with you in viewing it as the responsibility of administrators, teachers and parents to help students learn to face the harsh realities of the world and keep going. We face our mistakes and failures, we try to learn from them, and we go on.

    In the context of network content filtering, however, most schools I’m working in and with in Oklahhoma are filtering the web so strictly that students ARE NOT PERMITTED to make a mistake. Virtually everything is blocked. It’s like all the kids have to come to school in a michelin man costume to make sure no one bumps into anyone and gets touched in any way.

    These technologies are disruptive, and that is why so many schools are having trouble dealing with them appropriately. In many cases, school leaders are doing what is convenient rather than what is best for kids. It is more convenient to block the entire read/write web on the school network, rather than help teachers and students learn to make good choices on it. We need to do what is right, not just what is convenient. We need to prepare students for the digital present and future, and stop pretending the educational environment of the 19th century will suffice to prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st.

    Thanks for your thoughts and comments Robert. I look forward to continuing this discussion.

  7. David Truss Avatar

    It seems that educators are tied down on two points of ACCESS.

    1. Accessibility of resources… actually having the hardware to be connected.

    2. Free and open access to the web and all the sites and tools that it has to offer.
    This post speaks so eloquently to the latter. The airspace metaphor is excellent!

    – – –
    I end my last post on this note:
    On many levels, ‘access issues’ are key obstacles. Yet, opportunities abound! The web lets us collaborate in many different ways! So now I have to wonder: Do we want our discussions to be around what we can’t do?

    It isn’t so much about ‘New Boundaries*’ as it is about removing boundaries. There were holes in the Berlin wall for years… innovative teachers today are escapees from behind similar walls. It is time to tear the old ideological walls down. Teachers and students need access granted!
    -Dave Truss.
    – – –
    *New Boundaries – David Warlick’s K12 Online Keynote

  8. Tina Steele Avatar

    Great discussions. I will very much consider the suggestions presented here. I am the Technology Director and work closely with my Network Administrator. To date, I have not know that there is a way to separately filter the content for adults and students. In our school, some of our students are adults. We serv students ages 16 to adult. So, this might be somewhat difficult separating the content between adult and under age students. This might create a management nightmare.

    We have had instances of cyberbullying with social networking – so much so that we have had to call the police to campus, and thus, the shutdown of Myspace and other social networking sites.

    Thanks so much for the conversation and debate. Like, I said, my heart wants so much to open these things up, but I also feel I am protecting my teachers. Who wants to see someone go to jail for accidentally having porn pop up on their computers? I take nothing personally, but am open to all new ideas and suggestions to make web 2.0 applications accessible to our students! 🙂

  9. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Tina: I think we are all with you on the statement that no one wants to see someone go to jail! Certainly we do have obligations to protect and provide safe environments, but the balancing act that is needed between safety/security and freedom/creativity is the rub. I have learned about VLANs or virtual LANs recently myself, and they really are an essential part of providing a secure network. Some schools have teachers putting wireless AP’s on their regular network, and this opens up many different secsurity vulnerabilities. Multiple goals can be achieved by using VLANs, including segmenting network resources (so people on a public WiFi connection can’t intentionally or accidentally share malware/viruses to other computers on the wired network, including administrative applications like the student information system) and differentiated content filtering can also be provided. I’d consider the use of VLANs in architecting school networks to be a “best practice” now.

    For better or for worse, there ARE many things we can’t control in the Internet space. We certainly do want to protect users but at that same time we need systems that can support learning… and that does mean, at times, failure. I think we need to have regular conversations about appropriate use, cyberbullying prevention, bullying prevention, etc. There are not technological fixes to the underlying issues here– technology can help us address things, but ultimately these are human choices and we need to focus on those aspects even more than the technologies.

  10. Dennis Harter Avatar

    There is no doubt that the line on censorship has blurred significantly in the past few years. What used to be cause for celebration of freedoms so few nations provide their students (and citizens), has now become a source of fear and, frankly, embarrassment.

    In other nations, children and adults go to great lengths to get the access to web tools that US schools block with little understanding. Read Jeff’s Thinking Stick sometime to get a sense of how China deals with informational freedom. Wasn’t the US the opposite of China when it came to freedom once upon a time?

    Upon reading the first comment, I could barely keep myself from scrolling straight to the bottom and typing my comment.

    MOST kids aren’t cyberbullies…

    Blocking at school does nothing to prevent it anyway, because kids just do it at home. Instead, by blocking it, you live in denial and then teach the children nothing except, “bully-at-will when you are sitting at home anonymously”, because we hide behind blocking and therefore teach absolutely no responsible use (which by the way is the only way to combat cyberbullying or any other misuse. Should we block access to the internet and computers completely to stop plagiarism?)…

    Yes, adults have to guide students in making choices and help them learn how to interact with a sometimes dangerous online world. Hard to do that when we hide them from it. In fact that means the students only interaction with these technologies is WITHOUT US. Real good plan…

    Okay, I wasn’t going to do that. As I was saying, I wanted to scroll straight down, but I held back and I read the other comments. And I calmed a little.

    And I saw that Wes replied directly to Robert’s points. And of course, his comments were insightful and spot on and written ten times better than I could do it.

    And then he threw in some Latin (courtesy of Doug Johnson).

    How can I add to that?!

    As he said, it’s about “human choices”. The problems that we face are not technology issues but choice issues involving technology. And school administrators are making their own choice to not teach kids how to make their own.

    The irony is that it is not our choice to teach responsible use anymore. Access and opportunity (not practice) for misuse are too widespread. It is our OBLIGATION to teach this now.

    And by these actions some school leaders are preventing educators from doing their job.

  11. Jamison Avatar

    I agree to an extent on the first amendment crowd here. However, let me give you a perspective from a technology coordinator’s point of view… that’s me.
    We are a private school. We have 1,500 students.
    I know that by blocking certain sites, I am not “saving the world”. But, I am “covering our @$$”.
    If a child is “bullied” online, and it turns out to be from one of our students, during school hours, from one of my computers, that kids dad (who is likely a lawyer, if you know my school), will want to sue us (TRUST me here… some parents at this school will cry “LAWSUIT!” at the drop of a hat.)
    If a child is solicited for sex in a chat room, during school hours, on one of my machines, and meets some 40 year old perv who molests her… “Lawsuit!”

    It isn’t like we are little China. God forbid we block access from MySpace or FaceBook or xxx sites for 8 hours of the kid’s day. They have home computers. If the child comes across a legitimate site that they need for studies, homework, a test, or a paper while at school, and they come to me or a teacher, I unblock the site permanently within 2 minutes.

    Take computers out of it and look at it from a different angle.
    Kids want to read comic books in class. Should teacher allow it because not allowing it is some sort of “freedom of the press” infringement? What if kids want to go shopping at the mall during their study hall, but the school bans it? Wouldn’t blocking eBay or the like be the same thing? I guess school-owned computers, for the purpose of school-related duties, getting bandwidth from a school paid-for T1 line should be able to dictate what content is allowed to kids during school hours. I can’t speak for public schools, only a private school (Private, all about freedom all about America. Remember, ALL education was “private” schools in the early days of America. And *GASP* they PRAYED and read the *GASP* BIBLE in school back then. Funny how we don’t want to see a Bible in schools, but bring on the porn on the computers!)

    I just highly doubt our forefathers would have been up in arms because children were banned from seeing people having sex and led acts during class time.

    Good discussion though!

  12. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Jamison: If you are interpreting my view as one supporting access to pornography on school computers, either you have not read what I’ve written in this thread above, both in the original post and in the comments, or you are misunderstanding me. In philosophy and debating, what you are doing here is making a straw man argument. WikiPedia defines the “straw man” as “an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.” I have clearly stated in this post and comment thread that I am FOR the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). I agree there is content that is not appropriate for children and is offensive (and I would even go so far as to say some content is not appropriate for ANYONE, but that would be taking my position here further) and that it is not only the law in U.S. schools to have a content filter and policy in place, and enforce it, but it is also the right thing to do morally and ethically. So, I want to make this very clear. I specifically endorse and support the use of content filters in schools, but on a more limited basis than what we see happening today in many schools– at least many of the Oklahoma and midwest schools with which and in which I now work. Please do not misinterpret my position or lead others to believe that I am endorsing an extremist view that “anything goes” and “we shouldn’t have any rules about information access or use in schools.” If you’ll go back and read what I’ve written in this thread, I think that should be clear to you, and hopefully clear to others.

    Your point about our litigious society is a very important one and clearly something in our school as well as cultural landscape in the U.S. that plays a big role here. I read Philip Howard’s excellent book “The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America” several years ago, and certainly he speaks to the ridiculous ways which fear of litigation has and continues to drive public policies as well as individual/organizational actions on many fronts in irrational or harmful ways.

    Perhaps the culture of control and conservative, preventative or reactionary policies in schools to limit teacher and student autonomy and over-censor the information environment IS too pervasive to change. I’m not sure. I do know, however, that I see some examples of schools taking a more balanced and reasonable approach. The phenomenon of schools overreacting to lawsuits or the perceived CHANCE of a lawsuit is certainly common in my experience, in cases that have nothing to do with technology. Our former school district in Lubbock, Texas, removed virtually ALL playground equipment from elementary schools because of fears of parent lawsuits. Was that the right thing to do? I don’t think so. I’m thrilled we have FANTASTIC playground equipment at our elementary school in Oklahoma, and the kids truly benefit from the fact that someone (or a group) of school administrators in the central office haven’t ordered all the playground equipment dismantled and removed because a kid might fall down, break a bone, and then the school might get sued.

    What’s the difference in this case? Leadership. Leaders need to understand these issues and respond appropriately, not overreact to the detriment of everyone involved.

    I hope my reply has clarified my position for you and others.

  13. Dan Craig Avatar
    Dan Craig

    Hi all,

    Wonderful discussion. I’m sorry that I’m coming to it late.

    I’m all for filtering. Nothing teaches students the ins and outs of computers more than getting around a filter. By filtering, we are creating a country of top notch hackers. Talk about 21st Century skills! 🙂

    I have to approach this with a little humor. However, I’m not really kidding. Give me any filter and I can get around it in less than 10 minutes. If I can’t, then I’ll go home, set up my own proxy (which the filters will never block) and have a ball. Lest you suggest that I am personalizing this too much, just take a cruise around your lab and check out the minimized windows. I’ll guess that quite a few are “blocked” sites. I’m just getting these ideas from blogs and news sources that cater to our younger generation and I’m well behind the curve.

    While I’m an advocate for free speech, it doesn’t apply in school. The Supreme Court has ruled on that numerous times. A school can block access to just about anything that it feels interferes with the educational process. Does that mean it’s a good idea?

    Just because I don’t advocate blocking sites, doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in regulation. I’ve heard the, “would you let them read pornography in class?” argument a number of times. It’s a strawman. Of course not. I don’t think that’s what anyone is saying. Most who are against blocking are against limiting access to information because the potential for a problem exists. I would much prefer that schools establish clear rules for computer/network usage (as they likely already have), establish clear guidelines on penalties for violation of those rules, and educate students on the need for those rules (i.e., why rules are important for their safety, education, and so forth). Of course we should forget the teachers/monitors/assistants/…. They need to be trained to recognize violations, deal with violations, educate students on the use of Web spaces (not technically, but socially).

    As much as we try, we will never stop the flow of information. It is an ever present part of our lives and certainly the lives of our students. By neglecting to educate them on how to best live with and work in this space we are abandoning our jobs to the kids on the Net-playground.