Staff at Dr Frank J. Hayden Secondary School in Burlington, ON, Canada are opposed to a proposal to install Internet filters at HDSB schools. They sent a copy of their letter to school trustees to a local newspaper for parents to understand their viewpoint. Their letter highlights the ongoing issue that educators face – should schools have Internet Filters?
Should schools restrict the Internet?
When I read the letter, I was surprised with how conflicted I felt about the issue. I agreed with all the arguments made by the HDSB teachers. Yes, students need to learn digital citizenship. Yes, students can circumvent Internet Filters using proxy servers. Yes, Internet Filters cost lots of money to maintain. Yes, Internet Filters mistakenly block content that students should be able to access.
So if I agree with the HDSB teachers, why do I like the fact that the school where I teach has an Internet filter?
Don’t get me wrong. There are things I DON’T like about the school’s Internet filter. For example, I cannot stand that YouTube is blocked. I have begged the IT Committee to approve joining YouTube for Schools so that students can have access to videos that have educational value. However, so far I have made little progress (still not giving up!).
I also really dislike it when there is a perfect site that I want students to visit and for some unknown reason it is blocked. Yes, I can make a request for it to be unblocked, but this tends to take a few days. Typically, this means that I need to plan ahead if I know there is a site I want my students to access.
I also have found that from time to time, some of the Grade 8 students will find a way to circumvent the Internet Filter to access a social media or gaming site. This always highlights the imperfect nature of the Internet Filter.
Despite these complaints I still like the Internet Filter. What do I like about it? I like that it removes some of the worry.
Top 3 Reasons I Like the School’s Internet Filter
1. Prevents Inappropriate Thumbnails
When students are searching for images, often thumbnails will appear in the search results that are inappropriate. The Internet Filter is really great at making sure pictures of nude women or men never appear. I like that my students don’t have to be exposed to pornographic images when researching a topic at school.
2. Provides a Level of Security
In the ideal world there would always be a teacher in the computer lab. However, often students are in the computer lab before or after school, during recess, or at lunch time. During those times, a teacher may not always be present or they may be engaged in another task that prevents them from closely monitoring student activities. It is comforting to know that the Internet Filter is there to maintain some level of security.
3. Enforces Digital Citizenship
Some people argue that students need to learn how to become responsible digital citizens and an Internet Filter prevents them taking ownership for their behavior. I disagree. Everyone knows that the Internet Filter is imperfect. However, it tends to protect the students from innocently stumbling on inappropriate content. However, for those students who intentionally want to seek out banned content such as pornography or gaming sites it forces them to engage willfully to circumvent the filter. This activity is a breach of the Internet AUP and it highlights students who are NOT behaving as responsible digital citizens. I find the Internet Filter does not negate digital citizenship – instead it highlights the students who are engaging in ethical, safe, and responsible behavior and those students who are not.
About Christa Love
Christa Love, Vice President - Christa Love has a passion for education and technology. A graduate from Brock University she has an Honors Bachelor of Arts in Child Development, Bachelor of Education in Primary and Junior divisions, and Masters of Education in the area of Curriculum Studies. Her work at TechnoKids Inc. began more than twenty years ago as an instructor at a local learning center. Since that time she has operated the summer camp program, taught at the research and development center at John Knox Christian School, trained educators throughout the province on issues related to technology integration, and overseen the curriculum development of hundreds of technology projects. In recent years, Christa has become the vice president of TechnoKids Inc.
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Have you ever tried to look up images for a school project on Google and it won’t let you because there may be one or two inappropriate images on the page? This has happened to me numerous times and frankly it’s a bit irritating.
I understand that if a student sees an inappropriate picture, he or she may click on it, but don’t you find it a bit ridiculous that you can’t even find a picture of an apple on Google, because the page is blocked? In my opinion, I believe that the Internet should not be filtered that strongly.
By RILEY PAPSON
At Turkeyfoot Valley, our Internet is not overly censored. Our school gives students the right to watch videos on YouTube, check their e-mail, and, if they are in a design class, search the Internet for inspiration. While our school allows this, it is only because the students have earned the right to use these Internet sources. Our school does restrict certain sites if they fall under specific categories however. web sites that post blogs and contain forums are blocked by our school. Any sites that are game sites (or even contain games as a category) are blocked if they are not educational games. All websites that contain adult material are blocked and social networking sites, such as Facebook, are blocked.
I feel as if our school’s security is both protective and strict all at once. The student body at Turkeyfoot has been given a privilege to the sites that are unblocked and they express this trust with care. I think that all schools should be allowed to have website privileges just as our school.
By KATRINA SPINELLI
Filtering the Internet in schools seems to be more of a hassle to students than necessary. Our school in particular has a very harsh filtering system. There are students who do abuse their Internet privileges, but others need blocked information for research or other school related projects. There is no doubt that the Internet should be filtered, but eliminating everything that could be possibly controversial is a little too strict. Sites such as YouTube should remain open because they are useful in presentations as references or visuals. Students should also be allowed to access Google Images to assist them in projects. However, it is understandable for sites such as Facebook to be blocked because they distract students from their school work.
By ELANA THOMPSON
I feel that a school’s Internet system should be filtered to an extent. Schools have the right to block as many websites on their computers as they like, but there is a limit that will hurt the students. I can see schools blocking the social networking sites to help prevent cyber-bullying and harassment and also pornographic websites for the obvious reasons.
But when schools start to block websites, such as YouTube, is when I think they go too far because that is an acceptable educational website. There are other websites that are educational that schools block which take away from a student’s education. Why should a school take away from a student’s education by simply blocking a website that could help a student do research. So simply said, a school should block websites that can impede the education of students not websites that can help a student’s education.
By ANNA KNOBLACH
Log on. Open Internet Explorer. Facebook. As much as I hate to admit it, this is an everyday routine for me, as it is for many teenagers. While the mindlessness of people chit-chatting about trivial events is relaxing, the social network can propel my exaggeration into overdrive. At school however, the problem is virtually non-existent. Meyersdale Area High School’s Internet filter prevents me from getting lost in an online world of distracts when I have a task at hand, which proves to be very helpful. There are times, however, when the filter is often more a hindrance then a help. Filters pose some obvious problems, but the negatives are rarely examined. A strict limitation on websites available for student use can make research a challenge, along with finding any entertainment for students in their down time. Even teachers get fed-up with these confines from time to time; too often they must bypass the firewall simply to obtain teaching materials. While the filter provides many great protections, the restrictions of such a tool severely curbs the most important part of Internet use: Freedom.
By KELLY VAUGHN
Filtered surfing protects students from harmful sites that would be inappropriate or distracting to the learning place, but these blocks also prevent the students from using tools that would benefit their education.
Often in an art class, for example, students want to find ideas for an upcoming project, but because Google Images is blocked, many students have difficulty locating pictures.
Educational videos found on YouTube would be a beneficial addition to any class’s lesson, but because of these Internet filters, teachers cannot use them.
These sites, and many more like them, can be unblocked by teachers but because of the large hassle it has become, many teachers don’t even bother.
In an ideal situation, the Internet would be fully filtered on student computers, but give teacher computers access to all that the Internet offers.
This would keep students on safe sites, able to work on papers and gather research as the filters allow now. Teachers with free rein on the Internet would give classes interesting and applicable supplements that will benefit the learning experience.
By ETHAN TRIOL
There is a saying that goes “Give an inch, and they take a mile.” This adage applies perfectly to the question of how strongly the Internet should be filtered at high schools.
Although I would certainly like to see less Internet filtration as a student, I completely understand why school administrations lock down the Internet as much as they do. Some students are mature enough to handle complete Internet freedom at school, using it for work and research. However, unless every single student in the entire school could do this, it is impossible for school administrations to give even the most minuscule amount of leeway. For example, I, and even many teachers, believe that YouTube should be accessible from school.
Science classes would especially benefit from this website, as they would be able to view dangerous experiments that would otherwise be out of their reach. Nevertheless, it still goes back to the problem that not all students would just use these sites for purely educational purposes. Although schools may end up blocking websites that could certainly enhance education, the administration has to view the problem by looking at everyone in the school, not just those who would use it responsibly. According to Shanksville technology director Marty Petrosky, “Filtering the Internet is not just a case of blocking inappropriate websites. Students are attracted to site that, while not obscene, tend to take their focus off of learning. Therefore, filtering goes beyond just inappropriate content.”
Although less Internet filtration could certainly help some students, and even teachers, overall, Internet must be filtered to ensure that students do not abuse the Internet.
By ZAK SLAYBACK
George Bernard Shaw once noted that the “first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.” Shaw’s quotation applies not only to macro-societies such as the Western world or the United States but also to micro-societies such as towns and schools.
The generally agreed-upon end of education is to prepare students for the real world, and to equip students with the knowledge and skills to make differences and promote progress in that world. In order to fully prepare students for the “real” world, schools should aim to be micro-societies that reflect the society in which they reside. Schools in the United States should aim to promote civic virtue, individualism, freedom, and charity - the values that the United States claims to support - and promote these values in action.
Censorship is the negation of nearly all of the aforementioned values. Any form of Internet filtering within our schools would be a negation of Americanism. While it may be argued that children need to be protected, this is not the role of the state. Should parents object to the filtering (or in this case, non-filtering) policies of a school, then they should reserve the right to move their children to another district. Unfortunately, the very concepts of promoting freedom at schools while legally mandating individuals attend one specific district tend to be paradoxical.
While it may be argued that China is the new superpower, it would be unwise for American schools to emulate the Chinese system of Internet censorship. Do not collectivize students by centrally controlling what all may see. Handle Internet abuse on an individual basis and reject the concept of censorship. Only once we have fully rejected Internet censorship at our schools can we truly begin to promote Americanism.
By KAYLA SMITH
High schools should limit what is filtered to a degree. The Internet can be a very useful tool for doing schoolwork. I am sure that some schools have a filtering system that blocks out certain key words. On the other hand, some high school students are not mature enough to even be trusted with a filtered Internet even though they have been taught from an early age to use the Internet responsibly. Because of this, students need to be monitored.
Technology has become a huge part of modern society. High schools should monitor the websites students use, but the filtering should be only for their protection such as explicit websites that give information harmful to the welfare of children or websites that contain adult content. Schools should monitor what students are viewing, but should also keep an open mind that some information may be essential to learning.
By SARA ROMESBERG
With the advancement of technology comes a need to scrutinize what it is students are looking at during school hours. However, some schools may be taking this to an excessive level.
Although filtering what students are looking at is necessary, the extremes that some schools are going to may be overkill. While attempting to research opinionated essay topics, a student at Rockwood found multiple websites blocked. One student was unable to look at pictures of horses upon looking them up on Google.
After speaking with an administrator about what the criteria is that defines which websites are blocked and which ones are not, she stated that the school blocks websites based on whether they are educationally useful or not. Websites such as social media networks, blogs, and those referring to drugs or alcohol are blocked. However, upon further research, I found that when looking up drugs such as marijuana on Google, almost all of the websites were not blocked.
While using restrictions to block websites that students should not be looking at is necessary, some schools may be taking it overboard with the ones that they are blocking. At times, it may seem like a student is finding more blocked websites while doing research than “educationally useful” ones.
By LINDSEY BUNCICH
In my opinion students should be limited, but the limitations should not interfere with their education. Websites that will distract students such as social networking sites, gaming sites, and other sites should be filtered.
Students don’t have an educational need for these sites, in fact they can take away from the educational experience. However, filters shouldn’t make research difficult to students or prevent students from getting on websites that can help them.
Limitations to teachers should be much different than they are to students in my opinion. Teachers may have needs for sites students don’t need access too.