When I was a kid my dad used to warn me, "Don’t ever pick up a snapping turtle! If he chomps down on you, he won’t let go till it thunders!" Living in South Central Texas, this was a scary threat. Back then, as is true today, my hometown was subject to long periods of drought. I actually used to worry about getting bit by a snapper and then having to lug the critter around with me for months, which would be both embarrassing and terribly painful. Yes, I was and still am a gullible person with a vivid imagination. It recently occurred to me that I am a veritable snapping turtle when it comes to campaigning for reasonable internet access in schools. I cannot seem to let go of the subject!
Actually, I am not opposed to using filtering in K–12 schools, though I think there could be better solutions for managing students’ internet access. I am well aware that there is a law, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires reasonable steps to be taken to restrict students’ access to dangerous or obscene internet sites. My friend, Carol Simpson, Ph.D., who is a professor and a lawyer, reminded me recently that the word "filter" actually does not appear in this law. Here is her description of CIPA from a recent email: "CIPA only requires that a school apply ‘technological measures’ to protect students from graphical materials that might be harmful to minors. That doesn’t include ANYTHING in text only mode. And it certainly doesn’t include games, social networking, etc. It basically means kids can’t get visual porn (but textual porn isn’t included)."
Another attorney, friend, and cybersafety expert, Nancy Willard, writes extensively about internet safety both at school and at home. She is my inspiration for speaking out about overly restrictive filters. If you are interested in gaining more reasonable access, I believe one route to success is to present published articles as evidence to support your efforts to win over decision makers in your school or district.
My purpose in this article is to enumerate some of the most common "reasons" that are used to support the overly restrictive filtering that is prevalent in all too many schools and districts. I put the word reasons in quotations because it is my opinion that, very frequently, these are excuses rather than reasons. As I have stated previously, I want to join those who are writing and presenting in favor of allowing educators and students to access online material that is their right to use under the law and that offers tremendous educational value, especially with the proliferation of Web 2.0 resources. To that end, I have listed some common justifications for excessively tight filtering. I followed each justification with facts that might be useful in rebutting each statement. Here are some arguments and responses:
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