The Wonderful World of Filtering…

In the early days of the Internet at my school students surfed the web without the limitations of filters. I constantly had to make sure students were on task and not looking at web sites about Beavis and Butthead or the Simpsons. Then I found a student on a web site that contained pictures of people who had been killed in a variety of different ways. He was showing it off to some other equally immature ninth graders. A couple of students displayed a little distress at the images. At that point, I found myself an avid promoter of filtering.

Ten years later it seems like it is going too far.  I understand the concern regarding the tons of inappropriate stuff “out there” in Internet land.  As a parent myself, I certainly don’t want my kids to access to this stuff.  However, where does it stop?  My district just recently blocked Flickr, a site I’ve been using for both personal and school-related photographs.  I have made links from my world history web site to photographs taken at school. We will be starting up a big project focusing events around the world from the last 20 years or so and I was going to point my students to Flickr to view photographs of some of these regions.  So why did it get blocked?  Well, Flickr has evolved into one of the higher quality photography sites and some users have included nudity in their online libraries.  This raises another host of questions, is nudity porn?  Or does that not even matter in a high school setting?  We do live in a society where sexuality is demonized, but violence is cool.

So I’m frustrated.  Should we block less and monitor more?  Teach correct Internet usage better? Or just accept losing the THOUSANDS of appropriate, helpful, and educational photos of Flickr and videos of YouTube in exchange for alleged safety (sounds a little like the Patriot Act).  Throw in the fact that even the moderately tech savvy kids can easily find a “proxy” server at home to get around filter at school.  So where are we at?

Anyone else facing filtering issues at school?


6 thoughts on “The Wonderful World of Filtering…”

  1. I worked in a division where we filtered heavily. Kids couldn’t even get on their hotmail. We had a really great program where we could keep track of every user’s keystroke. It was neat because I could see who was up to what on any given day.
    I’m now in a division where there is no filtering at all. I like being able to read my email at school but, I wonder about how little protection our students have.


  2. My school has just changed ISPs. The new service is much faster and allows more students to be online at the same time. However it does include a much more rigorous filtering scheme than we had previously.

    I used YouTube in class fairly often to illustrate a point or to start a discussion, but it has now been blocked. I see YouTube as a great resource for the classroom, but am aware that there is material not appropriate for students on there. I try and make my students aware of the suitability of sites and for the most part they understand what is and is not suitable for school. However I am not so gullible to believe that given the opportunity and means that some students would not go looking for such material.

    I have just discovered TeacherTube, thanks in part to this blog and others like it and hope that it can develop into a greater resource.

    As for to filter or not to filter I don’t think there is an easy answer to this. I would hope that we are educating students to make informed choices and could trust them to do the right thing. But the reality is, that unless we explicitly prevent students from accessing inappropriate material, we can be viewed as implicitly allowing it.


  3. My district does a fairly decent job with its filtering. There’s an obvious demand for filtering, both from parents (who want to protect their kids) and teachers (who want to protect student and keep them focused on the task at hand).

    That said, I wish the district’s filter made the distinction between student and teacher. For example, I’d like to have access to youtube. Currently I perform various steps to get a clip. I may use a website like, convert the clip into a .mov file, and upload it to our online class (which uses that wonderful open source program “Moodle”).

    I do this at home. Having access at school would make it more convenient.


  4. I haven’t been keeping up with the state of filtering software, But unfortunatly, the technology is going to have to change before schools can change. Flickr is an excellent resource, but how to keep out images like the one I saw with the caption “banana or _____ Ha Ha” and the object in question being in a silhouette? Perhaps teachers need to be given special accounts that bypass the filtering software?

    What really bothers me about filtering is the finality of it. The process of proving a site is not safe is much shorter than proving the same site is now safe.


  5. My district hires a firm that sets up filtering based on “X” number of characteristics, including nudity, gambling, and “social issues.” I teacher 20th century US history; you can see the problem with filtering for social issues: war, peace, politics, poverty, prosperity, democracy, etc: all related to social issues. And the filtering is biased to the left. For example, I can access “pro-life” sites but not “pro-choice.” I can’t access feminist-oriented sites generally, for another example. The other issue is that the whole district goes through the same filtering, K-12. But we don’t buy the same holdings for our K-5 libraries, our 6-8 libraries and our 9-12 libraries, so why do we filter internet resources for the “lowest common denominator,” that is, for K-5 students? And why can’t teachers have access that students don’t have, so that we can make professional decisions about what to present from one PC to a whole class? The district takes this decision from us, which is patronizing, at least.


  6. While I understand why many school districts block sites such as Myspace and sites that do not seem to have educational value, I feel that it is a diservice to students and parents. Saying this I could argue for the educational value of many of these blocked sites, but that is not my primary issue. My major concern is sticking our heads in the sand. By blocking these sites at school we are not teaching our students anything. I have issues with closing our eyes and taking a CYA attitude. I have issue with people who feel that as long as it does not happen on their watch, them it is not their problem.

    I feel that if a teacher is doing his or her job then the students will be too busy to play around on websites that are not educational. If they have extra time during lunch or after school, so what. I read ESPN and the major news feeds during my lunch period. While I could argue that I am keeping up with current events so that I can encorporate such items in my economics or literature classes, I do not have to. The bottom line is that filtering sites teaches our students nothing.

    Students can get around such filters, provided a chance. My school ISP blocks the standard sites: Myspace, free e-mails, etc. They also block Google images. Aside from the numerous images site the students use, some of our middle school students (we are a 7-12 school) found a way to locate Google images via Google earth. The humourous part to me is that our ISP denies this is possible. I guess my contact prescription bad.

    I continue to get frustrated with the issue of filtering; in large part due to the ISP my school uses. I am frustarated because I do not trust that our ISP knows what they are doing. They block general URLs, eliminating access to many useful sites. They block general terms; without knowing the content on specific sites. At times they unblock some sites within days. I successfully got unblocked an economics blog written by the professor of our textbook. Others remain unblocked with inaccurate accounts of the content on the site. My wiki page was blocked and after several failed attempts to explain the difference between a wiki and a blog I switch to a different wiki site. Why one wiki service is block and another is not simply adds to my frustration. The lack of understanding that a company whose business is the internet demonstrates the lack of understanding the general public has as well. Filtering does not make these site go away. Educating students how to properly use time makes the sites go away, when it is time to learn.


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