One part the internet, one part kids… mix and the result is a recipe for parental anxiety, mixed opinions from professionals and politicians, and overreaching attempts to control access to information. (See: Harlem Shake meme)
This week the ACLU of Rhode Island released a report, “Access Denied,” showing that the use of internet filtering software is pervasive in R.I. schools and is hindering the educational environment. Filtering software paints with a broad and uneven brush and while the intention may be to block pornography and pornography only, it winds up blocking tons of useful, important and educational information. Sometimes its reach tends toward the absurd:
Use of so-called “safe search” keyword blocking by districts has led to such absurd situations as students being unable to access websites for a class assignment involving a synthetic polymer known as “polyvinyl alcohol” — because the search for information contained the word “alcohol.”
We recently worked on a case in Paterson, NJ where a public library wished to grant its staff the authority to tell patrons not to play video games. Deftly avoiding the video games conundrum, the library instead opted to increase the reach of its filter for users aged 12 and younger.
What conversations aren’t we having with children when we opt instead to block access to information? Filtering can create as many problems as it solves, as the report states in its conclusion:
While the mission of the public school system is to expose students to the world around them and broaden their minds with the full extent of the information available, the use of unnecessarily expansive filtering in schools has undermined that mission and barred students from accessing some of the world’s most fruitful resources.