School Internet Filters
Last updated: March 2, 2017
Stifling student exploration and free speech, or protecting our children...where do you stand on the use of content filter software in our schools?
Young children need to be protected from the internet
Also, internet filters in primary schools are much more effective than those used in secondary schools, because primary school children don't yet know how to use proxy servers to fool internet filters (as most secondary school students do).
Secondary school students need to work at school rather than surf the internet
This doesn't mean, however, that I think that secondary schools should not use internet filters on their computers, because if older children/teenagers are using computers at school then they should be working, rather than perusing the internet- teenagers would also be more likely to look at inappropriate websites than primary school children (being a teenager myself, and after worked in a computer library for a year, I know that this is true from personal experience, having had to kick some of the younger kids- 13/14 years old- out of the library for watching porn on the computers).
I can't imagine how school internet filters would 'stifle student exploration'- usually the whole point of students being allowed onto the internet is for them to explore a given topic; the only sites that school computers block are ones that contain sex or violence, or social networking sites (which are generally blocked because of the danger of cyberbullying on them).
Filters protect teachers as well students.
Secondary school students know how to fool school filters
This argument falls down in a number of important regards. Firstly, that is not a problem with filtering, but with filtering done badly. There are technical means by which the proxy-problem can be resolved: known proxy sites can be banned, or the school can shift from using a domain-name or IP-list ban, to some sort of word-filter which would not be constrained.
Secondly, not all students are technically proficient. They, at least, would be protected.
Thirdly, by forcing students to go around a ban in order access a questionable website, you prevent them from doing so accidently.
Lastly, there is a powerful declarative effect when the school says that certain subjects are innappropriate. Before a student can access a forbidden website, he or she must first realize that the school-community considers that sort of behaviour to be bad.
Internet filters unintentionally impede ability to work
It is true that filters can be too restrictive when students are trying to gain research information for a project.
It is extremely unlikely that a filter will ban all sites with information on a topic. While it may require additional research, the marginal costs of this are outweighed by the protection the system provides.
Furthermore, most school filtering systems includev a mechanism by which a teacher can override the ban, allowing access to a improperly banned website. This allows research to continue in the event that a ban was applied improperly.
It is important that schools trust students
In order for a student to develop any sort of self-control or self-confidence, he or she must be entrusted with the ability to make decisions for his or herself. A secondary-school must operate knowing that its rules cannot bind students forever, and so must move to make sure that students behaviours are motivated from internal commitment rather than external pressure. So long as the school denies students the oppurtunity to be distracted - and by extension, the oppurtunity to choose to focus - students cannot learn self-control.
The second message sent by internet filtering is that there exists content which students brains cannot handle, and that they are too immature to make decisions about this for themselves. Allowing students access to contraversial material is of fundemental importance to their ability to develop critical thinking. Without it, they have neither the impetous provided by the material, nor the confidence provided by the school's trust in their mental maturity. Even if a student would never search for illicit material, they are still reminded by the system that the school does not believe them to be capable of exercising discretion.
The school may provide guidance to parents regarding such issues, but the amount of freedom given to the children is something the parents should decide. It is their responsibility. Allowing students all-access on the school Internet would basically undermine the efforts of those parents who deem it moral to protect their children from certain types of material. You may not agree with the parents' decisions but they are the parents, not you.
Therefore, all-access would send out a double-standard (they allow this at school, but not at home) and that would be just as counter-productive to the child's growth.
On the other hand if the school chooses to be conservative on the issue, it is less likely to be taken as a "double standard" because the school has a legitimate, utilitarian reason to do so. School is a place for work, not for surfing porn sites buying Harry Potter paraphernalia, conversing with potential pedophiles and viewing tutorials on rolling marijuana joints. Even companies keep tabs on their workers' browsing activity to ensure time is not being wasted. So the school is perfectly right to do the same. And the children with liberal parents can visit any site they want... at home.
Students Must be Trained About Safe Internet Usage
It is hard, for instance, to convince a young girl that watching pornographic sites is "bad" for her. Most girls already realize that when many girls turn 18 they sell their bodies and have their sex tapes put on the web to make easy money. This is true especially in bad economic times like this when high school grads have few prospects of finding a job. There is no point hiding from them what goes on because eventually they are going to find out anyway.
Then most youngsters will reason, since they already know about it, why shouldnt they watch the videos where they are actually having the sex? Educators are more aware than the children, that allowing such videos to be viewed, while not a direct threat, tends to normalize and encourage such behavior. Especially since the videos only show the pleasurable aspect of such behavior and not the negative consequences that often ensue. Thus the educators may rightly wish for some sort of control over browsing activity. The children will not see it that way.
Similarly, one may wish to keep an emotionally troubled male student from visiting sites that encourage violent behavior. However most boys, actually not even adults are emotionally self-aware enough to tell themselves: "this site includes the views of a radical terrorist and by reading this I may not immediately be convinced to go out and start shooting people but I am already in an emotionally downward spiral and this sort of material will only add to my angst and indeed may even push me over the edge by subtly convincing me that killing is a justifiable act."
If they are curious enough, they will look at it. And then they will want to taste it. Forbidden fruit.
Therefore, while good education on "safe browsing" is important, one must be not be naive about human nature and be realistic about its actual benefits.
Filters block eduational resources
Certain sites may be educational when used for the correct reasons