Sunday, September 28, 2008

Intellectual Freedom: Where Do You Stand?

This week is banned books week. From the ALA website:
BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met.

Courtesy of Doug Johnson, we also might want to celebrate Blocked Bytes Week:

As Doug says:
Americans need the freedom to read more than just books.
As Doug has suggested before, I think many schools interpret CIPA incorrectly (read: too stringently). (Also see these three earlier posts on The Fischbowl.) He then shares some very interesting information in the comments:
Yes, we do block some sites - those specifically required by CIPA - basically pornography. We trust our filter settings to make accurate judgments about this.

What keep us from being "censors," I believe, is that for any non-pornographic site to be blocked requires a formal process be followed similar to a reconsideration process for banning a book.
Ahhh, now that’s an interesting idea. The default in Doug’s district is that a non-pornographic site is accessible, and they have to go through a process to block it. In other words, somebody in the district has to show cause and make a case for blocking a particular site, as opposed to allowing a filtering company to make that judgment (typically based on categories) from afar. That lines up pretty well with what I’ve said before about my own school:
Our philosophy is to have high expectations for our students, to educate them to behave ethically, responsibly and safely and then expect that they will do the right thing. When they don’t, they know we’ll have a conversation and try to learn from the mistake, but we don’t assume they are going to screw up. In other words, our philosophy has been to educate, not ban.
This filtering approach is the opposite of most districts and brings up an interesting philosophical discussion: should access to information generally be considered a good thing and therefore the default status is allowing access? Or should access to information be considered a bad thing and therefore the default status should be to block it? How much power should schools have to "censor" information and prevent students from accessing it? And who makes that decision? What are our schools' core values regarding intellectual freedom?

And, no matter where you fall on those questions, how do we best prepare our students for the unfiltered world they live in when they step off the bus? (Or open their cell phones? Or pull out their laptops with their own unfiltered connection to the Internet?)

(For the record, my district has a relatively open filter compared to most school districts, and we have a clear process where we can request that sites be unblocked. We also have a teacher override that gets teachers to many - but not all - blocked sites. Of the sites listed on Doug’s graphic, only three of them are currently blocked for students: Twitter, Ning and Second Life. Other sites that are blocked include YouTube, Google Video, MySpace, Facebook, LiveJournal, and all sites deemed pornographic by 8e6, our Internet filter company.)

Update 9-30-08: Heard this related story on NPR this morning. Talks about the intial banning of The Grapes of Wrath, so more about books and less about the Internet, but interesting nonetheless.


  1. Excellent post, I'd be so happy to join "Blocked Bytes Week". We're trying to get Wikipedia back, and teachers do not have the permissions to bypass anything blocked by 8e6. Oh, to have access to Google Earth....
    But seriously, what groups exist to challenge districts when they overstep CIPA and begin to limit learning?

  2. Karl,

    You and Doug have both made me think about the relationship between book challenges and internet filtering. It is a conversation worth library folk discussing with their district IT staff.

    It also gave me an extra week to get something posted on my blog about banned books:


  3. mike reilly: You have my utmost sympathy. To imagine not having access to Wikipedia at my school is quite frankly terrifying. I view Wikipedia as one of, if not the most valuable educational resource on the Web.

    As far as what groups exist to prevent schools from overstepping their bounds, I am not aware of any. The ALA has (unsuccessfully) challenged the constitutionality of CIPA. Our district has a committee (composed of teachers and few students led by an IT professional) that handles request to have sites unblocked. Our district's filter is also relatively loose to begin with, as Mr. Fisch mentioned.

  4. In my opinion TOO much is being blocked from us. I am a student in High School, and it seems like now because of blocked web sights and banned book's it makes it almost impossiable to finish a assignment. I was always told that is i needed to get somehting done i could go to the library, but now its usless. Im lucky to access 2 sights with the information i need. Their are understandable websights that should be blocked however. Myspace and other things along those lines are big distractions and should not be allowed, but essential things like youtube should be okay to access when in a school.

  5. Mr. Fisch
    I think that the school filtering is a good way to keep students focused in class and keep them from looking up inappropriate things online while they are at school. But sometimes the filtering systems seems just a little too strict and is a problem sometimes when students need to look up things on YouTube or other things for school, and then they can't because it is blocked. For example, today in Mrs. Leclaires English I was looking for a website that would embed a song into my Wikispace. However I was not able to find a website that could have been helpful to me that wasn’t blocked.

    Also, I do not agree with Mr. Fisch when he says that the filtering is made to educate students to make the right decisions but I don’t think that it is up to the school to tell their students what they should and shouldn’t do outside of school. The students can do what ever their parents will allow them to do when they aren’t on school property.

  6. Being a student in a high school that has plenty of access to computers,the blocking of websites becomes an issue. It is a pain when students and teachers are trying to use the internet for class and the websites they visit are blocked. All it does is take more time away from whatever it is they are trying to teach. Websites that can have any benefit at all to our classes should not be blocked. By not allowing us to learn about the content that is on websites does not prepare us for the future and how to find essential information we may need in to future. If students choose to use the internet only to mess around, that is there choice and they will eventually suffer the consequences of that decision.

  7. I would have to agree with jamieg on this. Too many things are being with-held from us. In the first amendment it says we have the right to free press, speech and religion. When people tell us we can't worship this religion or can't write this or can't say that they are taking the first amendment away from us.

    In Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut the government took away there minds. They weren't allowed to think one though without it being erased from there mind with a loud noise. They also weren't allowed to look a certain way, they weren't allowed to be smarter then anyone else. All there freedom was taken away from them for being different.

  8. Thanks everyone for contributing to the discussion.

    @jamieG and angelicao – you both mentioned students being “distracted” as one reason to have some Internet filtering in place, so I wanted to think about that a little more. It seems to me that – even with sites like YouTube and MySpace blocked – there are still plenty of ways to be distracted on the web. If the primary argument for blocking some sites is distraction, it seems like you would have to pretty much block the Internet altogether, particularly when students were not being “supervised” in class (and there are schools that do that).

    Second, I think most folks would agree that the Internet is here to stay and that, outside of school where there is a filtered Internet, you will be faced most of the time with an unfiltered Internet. Doesn’t it seem like “distraction” is something you’re going to have to learn to overcome? Whether it’s from the Internet, a cell phone, the television, friends, or the guy cutting down his tree with the chainsaw across the street, there will always be distractions. While I think students are indeed distracted by things on the Internet (as are adults), I also believe they are capable of overcoming those distractions. I believe that allowing an Internet filtering company (based on categories set by a committee in our school district) to decide what constitutes an allowable or disallowable distraction is not giving enough credit to students (or adults).

    Finally, if distractions are something that school should strive to prevent, then wouldn’t AHS have to make some other changes? For example, wouldn’t we have to close campus? Certainly having the ability to leave campus during the day is a huge distraction. And during your unscheduled hours, wouldn’t we have to require you to be in the media center or with a teacher in a department office, since being in the cafeteria is certainly conducive to distraction. For that matter, wouldn’t we have to get rid of variable scheduling and unscheduled hours altogether, and put you in study halls? And require hall passes any time you left a classroom?

    It seems to me like the distraction argument is a slippery slope in a lot of ways, and that it also assumes that students (in our case at AHS, high school students) aren’t capable of controlling themselves. I guess I believe that high school students are more capable than that.

    @angelicao – I’m a little unclear on exactly what you were disagreeing with. What I was trying to say (perhaps not very well) is that you – as a soon to be adult and already as someone who is not supervised all the time – are going to have to learn how to deal with an unfiltered Internet. I believe school has a role to play in helping you learn how to do that, so that you can safely, effectively, productively and ethically use the Internet. That’s not the same thing as telling you what to do outside of school.

  9. I agree with Jake on her connection with the story we had to read and annotate for homework 2 nights ago. They goverment in the story took away their freedom to think what they want because the goverment wanted everyone to be equal. But if you think abou it nobody can be equal... EVER. It un human in our society. So with the school blocking some sites it's ok to do this but for other sites some students need to use them for school and they can't with i t being blocked. We should have certin vidios or articles blocked and not the site in which they are on like youtube shouldn't be blocked in genneral certin vidios should be blocked.

  10. I agree with Jamie. It is hard to find a site that is not blocked when researching. But on the other hand I do agree that some sites should be blocked because many students become distracted and would never use their time to actually get their homework done at school. For example, youtube is a great resource but it can also have inappropriate things on it. Its either you block the website or you don't. I don't think you can block selected videos. But also I do agree with Karl when he said that outside of school our computers are unfiltered and that we're going to have to learn how to overcome it. That's just what teenagers are going to have to learn to do in order to achieve what they want. Also I agree with Mr. Fisch talking about how filtering is made to help educate students make the right decisions. So in other words I think we should have a free filter so students can make the right decisions on doing their homework or they can just play around and get nothing done on the computer.

  11. I agree with Allie and Jake about what they said about how it connects to Harrison Bergeron. They have no freedom in any way at all. I'm not saying that we have no freedom at all, but I think that a lot of the sites that are blocked would be useful to us as students in our classes. I dont think that all of the sites should be unblocked but I feel like we should have the opportunity and the freedom to use those websites as resorces in our classes.

  12. I belive that some web sites need to be blocked, to keep the school "clean". In other words there are some web sites that are not appropriate for students to veiw, and thoughs need to be blocked. Many however, are locked and they are harmless sites full of information. Youtube is a site that we have used in our calss this year. yet it is blocked to students. If one decides he could use a video for a project and wants to get it from a site that is blocked, they have to search and search for a site that isnt. That can take away form class time, and with most of the Arapahoe students busy days, this can be frustrating. So blocking web sites hurts more then helps.

  13. I agree with April and Jamie, It is very difficult to find something you need, even for a class project, with all the censorship we have. For example, in english class we made wikispaces, and embedding a song is really tough since youtube and itunes are blocked. Although usually censorship is used because students can be distracted by thing online during class, pretty much anything can be distracting anyway. We could unblock certain websites and give students a choice weather or not to use them. If you are distracted and don't do your work, you take the consequence.

  14. I agree with alenav about how frustrating it can be to try to get work done in the library with all the websites being blocked. YouTube can be a good resource for school if used in the right way. I’m not saying that all websites should be unblocked just the ones that could be helpful.

  15. I agree with Jake H about the story about harrison Bergeron. the goverment was trying to control everyone by making them equal but that could never happen because of genes in the humans make them the story the goverment puts handicaps on everyone so they are equal, like the buzzer that makes mr, burgeron unincapible of hard thinking. with the school blocking some sites its okay to do this but for other sites some students need to use them for school and we can't with the school blocking all the sites.they should give us pass codes if our teacher aproves of the site.

  16. at times it is very hard to finish homework when many of the usefull sites are blocked. and for the sites that arent educational, they are still a part of our society and we shouldnt block them, we should accept that they are a part of our culture.

  17. I agree with Allie~J and Jake H because the government is trying to block us from everything. In "Harrison Bergeron", the government wanted everyone to be equal. But when Harrison went onto the stage of the ballet, a lady shot him and the TV went dead. The government didn't want people to see how bad they were and how what they were doing was wrong.

  18. I agree with Jamie about how too many sites are being blocked from us. I believe that the blocking of sites such as youtube is causing more problems then solutions. I am actually wondering why the sites are being blocked, because Mr. fisch made it clear that they aren't blocking the sites because of distractions. I also agree with Jamie on how the blocks are preventing us (high school students) from completing assignments, and that is one reason why the blocks are causing more problems then solutions. My question "why" still remains unanswered.

  19. I basically agree with everyone on the filtering blog. I definetly can agree that it is both a good and bad thing. I also think it's not fair for the school to control what wedsites students are on, such as Myspace or Facebook. Plus they also block Youtube, which isn't a bad website, and sometimes teens need it for doing a school project. Also in Mrs. Leclaire's class we are designing Wikispaces, where you can embed songs on your page. However I was unable to this because of the blocked music sites, so it was frustrating. But I can also agree that having a filtered computer can be good so it stops teens from looking up anything inapropreite. Plus teens stay more focused in class.

  20. I basically agree with everyone on the filtering blog. I definetly can agree that it is both a good and bad thing. I also think it's not fair for the school to control what wedsites students are on, such as Myspace or Facebook. Plus they also block Youtube, which isn't a bad website, and sometimes teens need it for doing a school project. Also in Mrs. Leclaire's class we are designing Wikispaces, where you can embed songs on your page. However I was unable to this because of the blocked music sites, so it was frustrating. But I can also agree that having a filtered computer can be good so it stops teens from looking up anything inapropreite. Plus teens stay more focused in class.

  21. I agree with Angelica,blocking certain cites does help stay focused to their assignment or whatever the reason them to be on the internet in the first place.

    However, i agree that myspace, facebok, and all those other sites should be blocked at school because if they were unblocked all teens will be spending all their time on these sites. I do disagree with blocking most everyother site. There is a good information on other sites too, and just because the school doesn't recognize it doesn't mean it should be impossible to get to.

  22. I definitely agree with the fact that filtering doesn't prepare us for the real world. The filter can only shelter us so much, but when we've graduated, or when we're just at home or someplace else that doesn't have a filter, how will we make decisions?
    We read 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 last year and it's scary what happens when filtering and censorship go too far...
    And not having access to Wikipedia? I can't imagine it! I know there's false information on there, but there's a lot of good information too.

  23. Internet filtering is a very hard subject to talk about in regards to schools. Of course I believe there should be filters on pronographic sites and things of the like but as many others have said, it's very annoying to have sites blocked when you need to write a report or do research.

    I also believe that filter or no filter there will always be kids who don't pay attention in class. Or maybe you've seen the kid on Microsoft Paint when he/she should be working. There will ALWAYS be people who don't want to pay attention and frankly, there is no way to make them. But why should the entire student body pay for the actions of a handful of students? I think we need to give more credit to the majority of the student body who are more then ready to pay attention and get the most out of their education.