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Don't be a mushroom when it comes to filtering

Knowledge is power.
Francis Bacon 

At an AASL session last week, a librarian discussed how she was able to get a GBLT website unblocked in her district - but not after a long and stressful ordeal, including the involvement of the ACLU. 

The discussion was inspiring and I applaud the librarian's efforts and eventual success, but it also made me wonder how many librarians and classroom teachers could answer these simple, but important questions:

  1. What is the brand name of your Internet filter and what are its features? Can sites be white/black listed? Can teachers be given the ability to bypass the filter? Is the filter local or regional?
  2. Who actually decides what sites are blocked in your district or region? Is there a process to getting a site unblocked or blocked?
  3. Do you know your district's official selection and reconsideration policies? Do they apply to all resources - curriculum and library; physical and digital? Is there a standing or selected reconsideration committee?
  4. What does CIPA actually require be blocked? Graphics and/or text? Social media? Pornography? Violence? Have you read the law?

Without knowing the answers to these questions, one is at the mercy of the tech department in determining what is allowed and not allowed through the Internet filter. I hear more librarians say, "The tech director says it (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) is not CIPA compliant. Well that, quite frankly, is bullshit and if you accept it, you are a mushroom - being kept in the dark and fed a lot of bull. 

Come on, knowledge is power. Know the facts about Internet filtering! Do it for your students.

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Reader Comments (5)

Hello Doug,

I used to make the same arguments you have here for YouTube, but in the last few years they have become far too lax for my comfort. Take the video here as an example:

Can we honestly say it's CIPA compliant? How about most of the other videos referenced on the sidebar?

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDarren Draper

Hi Darren,

I am personally uncomfortable with the movie like you linked to being available to young people. But the question is about denying access to all the good materials available via the world's second largest search engine because there may a small percentage of inappropriate materials. In earlier years I've had a superintendent want Psychology Today removed from my library because it had condom ads in the back and a parent want an encyclopedia removed because it had drawings of human reproductive systems. As librarians we are taught to select for the good, not censor for the bad.

And I do not want to be the one to make this call. This needs to be a decision made by a wide variety of stakeholders. That's the real point of the entry. I won't defend any material - but I will defend any material's right to a fair hearing.


PS. I will have to wait until this evening to give your film a full evaluation!

November 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

In any discussion like this we need to include the idea of just how much media access we think we can actually control. The YouTube example here, while anatomically kind of over-informative, is pretty danged tame compared to what minors can access on their smart cellular devices while at school. I'm not saying this is something to be promoted or ignored, but intelligent media consumption is something that needs to be part of the instructional space. We administrators do tend to have knee-jerk "Cut it off!" reactions to marginal media, but it pays to step back and reconsider the overall instructional goal as well as the actual intent of CIPA and the theoretical vs. real damage done when students view marginal content. Decent Internet filtering products do exist so that Internet-enhanced instruction can coexist with organizational concerns and student vulnerabilities.

In my district we now have a fairly user-friendly filter that allows teachers to perform temporary instant overrides during instructional time, a huge benefit considering how random and unpredictable our former product was. Instruction was often interrupted altogether when the old filter would change its algorithm and tried & true sites would be inexplicably blocked. District admin can then quickly consider the request and work with the teacher if there are any issues with the link, but meanwhile teaching doesn't stop. We find that as long as filtering is responsive to instructional needs, it is respected and valued by teachers and students alike.

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBill Storm

one of the beast way to break filter is Using VPN

November 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteralex

Hi Alex,

I believe quite a large percent of students know about and use VPNs to skirt Internet filters - although many filters block access to popular VPNs as well.

My argument is that by doing a minimal amount of blocking, we will not need to make rule-breakers out of our students.

All the best,


November 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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