My husband John makes an interesting observation on the dilemma of internet filtering in schools (http://staff.bbhcsd.org/schinkerj/archives/2007/03/23/protecting-our-students/).
He notes that, “Our schools are supposed to provide adult supervision in all areas where students are using the Internet.”
But what does “adult supervision” mean – an adult simply present in the room (completely ineffective) or an adult actively engaged in looking over kids shoulders as they are online (completely unrealistic). How does this “rule” apply in an age where school campuses and other public areas are increasingly wi-fi enabled and internet devices are increasingly smaller and more convenient? If a student could use her cell phone to access the internet in the bathroom, could the school district be held liable if there is no adult present there at that time?
John also writes, “It may be time to stop relying on the technology to protect them.” I would argue that technology cannot really protect them. One of the most critical roles technology plays in our society today is expanding and organizing our access to data, information, knowledge, and opinion. Filtering software on an institutional level makes no sense because members within a large group of people will rarely agree on what should be filtered.
I access the internet every day. With my filtering limited to pop-up blockers, I very rarely “stumble” across what I consider to be inappropriate sites. In fact, I’m more likely to be surprised by inappropriate content in my email in-box (despite the use of Popfile to filter incoming messages) than online. I think the problem of inappropriate material coming in from outside is exaggerated. The larger threat may be students from seeking out this content from within and sharing it with other students. It’s very difficult to stop the spread of knowledge.
From an administrative perspective, I will admit that it is difficult to address the issue of appropriate content in a blanket way for all age groups. As a parent (essentially a family administrator), I do not ultimately want to limit my children’s access to or discussions of knowledge on any topic. However, since they are currently only 5 and 7 years old, there are definitely some issues to which I do yet not want them deliberately exposed by others. Interestingly, I am not worried one bit about what they might encounter using the internet at their school. I am, however, somewhat concerned about what their teachers might do, say, or model. And I am greatly concerned by what they learn from contact with other students.
My mother has said that we should have taken greater care to live in what she considers a “better” school district, implying that somehow a higher percentage of college-educated parents, greater monetary wealth, or less ethnic diversity makes a school district “better” and would eliminate my concerns. Obviously, there is no place we could move where everyone would agree with my specific views on what is appropriate.
Even though exposure to a large variety of ideas and values could be considered one of the downsides to living in a society with human contact, I personally consider it one of the upsides! As much as we want to protect our children at all costs from all “evil” influences, such contact ultimately works for good by testing and strengthening their character, their sense of self, and their personal ideas of right and wrong.
John writes that, “But maybe it’s time to stop worrying so much about what someone might post online, and start teaching our students how to behave responsibly — as both information creators and information consumers — in this environment.” Ah…the true power of education! On the whole, knowledge is freeing, and attempts to limit knowledge usually indicate an underlying insecurity and/or an attempt to wield power over another. In so many areas of life, we’d be better off acknowledging what we each perceive to be reality and discussing it, rather than trying to ignore, deny, or hide from it. It is a worthwhile exercise to consider why any particular subject is considered taboo – and to realize that such subjects will always be the ones that young minds eager for knowledge of any kind will seek out.