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Due diligence

Filter.jpgNot one of those who sigh or are critical of filtering decisions has their job on the line should Johnny access inappropriate content. Would those who are frustrated sit beside me in court or defend me in the court of public opinion? They certainly would not have to sit in the principal's office and explain to the sobbing mother who is clutching her book of faith. Kurt Paccio, Filtering Dilemma, Tech Ruminations.

I find Kurt's comment worrisome. (First, go read the entire post for context.) How many tech or IT directors have taken on the entire burden of making sure no student in their district finds anything disturbing on the Internet? I'll bet more than a few.

If schools are relying on filters (and tech staff) alone to protect students from inappropriate content, I hope the superintendent gets canned rather than the IT director. But both ought to know better. If Kurt has promised that his filter by itself keeps kids safe or if his administrator has the expectation that he will keep kids safe by filtering alone, both ought to find other work.

(Oh, my remarks are about public schools. I have no issues with religious or private schools in regard how or if  they choose to filter.)

Why you can't rely on filters:

1. Kids get around them. 

A 16-year old boy speedily found a way around a new porn filter provided by the Australian government's NetAlert internet safety initiative. Tom Wood, a student in a Melbourne private school, told media outlets that it took him just over 30 minutes to bypass the filter, either the Spanish Optenet product or the American Safe Eyes filter. His technique kept the filter's toolbar icon in place, fooling parents or teachers into thinking the software was still working. ... After NetAlert officials discovered the bypass, they installed an Australian-made filter called Integard, which Wood promptly disabled in another 40 minutes.American Libraries, October 2007, p 42.

This is not an unusual circumstance. Check out SchoolBoredom.dom. Look up old Playboy websites using the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Students can circumvent filters by:
•    Disabling stand-alone software through simple keyboard combinations.
•    Using specialized software such as that available from Peacefire's website.
•    Changing a browser’s proxy to an unfiltered site.
•    Using an anonymizer like Akamai.
•    Logging into the filtering server using a default administrator’s password if not disabled

2. Filters are not 100%. Studies, like those of the Electronic Freedom Foundation (2003) that examined nearly a million web pages, should fuel Kurt's concern. The researchers found the following:

  • For every web page blocked as advertised, blocking software blocks one or more web pages inappropriately. 97-99% of the web pages blocked were done so using non-standard, discretionary, and potentially illegal criteria beyond what is required by CIPA.
  • Internet blocking software was not able to detect and protect students from access to many of the apparently pornographic sites that appeared in search results related to state-mandated curriculums.

Another study conducted by the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School (JAMA, 2002) examined how well seven Internet filters blocked health information for teens at settings from least restrictive to very restrictive.  They found that at the least restrictive setting only 1.4% of the health information sites were blocked and 87% of the pornography sites were blocked. At the most restrictive setting, 24% of the health information sites were blocked with still only 91% of the pornography sites blocked.

3. Kids have access to un-filtered Internet access outside of school. We are totally derelict if we don't tech kids how to navigate and discriminate sites that are not appropriate for them. There is wide-open access at the coffee shop, at the public library, at their buddies' homes, and through their cell phones that have data access.

As in so many areas of student safetly, I will practice due diligence. I will take what steps I can and that are reasonable to protect kids. But I cannot guarantee anyone will never see a nekk'd body on the web from a school computer. Bad things will happen to kids and teachers despite our best efforts. Any individual's control is limited. Do what you can and sleep well.

We make it very clear that filters will not keep kids completely out of harm's way and that teachers need to monitor kids' use just as diligently as if there were no filters at all. And we teach kids not to click on links that look suspicious. The responsibility is shared for appropriate use - as it well should be. You'd like the approach, Kurt. Give it a shot.

Oh, I wonder what "the sobbing mother who is clutching her book of faith" was sobbing about? Access to information about evolution, gay rights, family planning or the Wiccan religion? I have yet to see a kid harmed by simply reading or seeing anything on the Internet. And heaven forbid we expand their minds with different points of view.


Off to Orlando tomorrow to speak at the FAME conference and take my grandson (and his mom and my son) to DisneyWorld for a few days. As much as I would like to dislike DisneyWorld, my stupid grin starts the moment I walk through the gates and doesn't leave the entire time I am there. Yes, it does feel like a giant mouse picks one up by the ankles and shakes until it has one's very last nickel, but what the heck. I'm taking my camera so be warned!



Why I love tech-using kids

A recent note from one of our techs to her staff...

Many of you who have new computers have mentioned to me that strange messages [most of which were not very nice] are showing up when you are displaying from your computer to a smartboard or a screen.  This is occurring because your computer has a technology called Bluetooth active on the computer.  Students can then use their cell phones or PDAs or any technology with bluetooth on to send messages to your computer which are then displayed to your screen or smartboard.

To turn off Bluetooth:...

Reminds me of an incident from a few years ago when televisions in one of our schools at seemingly random intervals turned off and changed channels. We took them into the shop, called the electrician, etc. Eventually we discovered that a kid had a watch with a built in TV remote.

And all we had were spitwads. 


Games and One Big Room

My column about why we ought to have games in schools is now posted at Education World. (if it sounds somewhat familiar, it's a polished version of comments from earlier Blue Skunk entries.)

Because of the conversation about filtering and intellectual freedom, I re-read my columns "One Big Room" which appeared earlier at Education World in 2006 and Maintaining Intellectual Freedom in a Filtered World that was in Leading & Learning, 2005. Amazing - both still seem to make sense to me. And had less "rant" about them.

I did read a remark somewhere that a tech director felt he would be fired if any student in his district accessed inappropriate materials on the Internet. Hmmm, I feel a blog entry formulating...


craguns.jpg At the Minnesota state library/tech conference (MEMO) at a beautiful resort near Brainerd.

Looking forward to hearing the always stimulating Jamie McKenzie's keynote and it is nice to get caught up with AASL President Sara Kelly Johns who is visiting our conference.

I have only one breakout session to give so I get to listen and learn most of today and tomorrow from my fellow Minnesotans!